History of the Electric Fireplace

The history of electric fireplaces is more interesting, and perhaps a bit longer than some might think at first. From its belittling introduction to the majestic marble mantle-clad wonders of today, knowing this history will make you unable to look at your electric fireplace the same way again.

Humble Origins Among the Stars

Traversing the ages, fire has been a common theme in man’s journey and advancement, especially in technological improvements. While the electric fireplace sits relatively late in the table of harnessing fire, it can claim to be an important innovation, rightly deserving to be made a part of the modern home. But for the first electric fires in 1912, the play was their restriction.

First Electric Fireplaces in Theater Productions

Electric fires were first used in theatre productions like this one – By Central Litho. & Eng. Co. (signed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID var.1527.; image is a reproduction, also in the public domain.

The first “electric fireplaces” were a far cry from what we are used to today. Far too impractical in their infancy, they still managed to light up the stages of America. They desired to reduce the chances of dangerous fires catching, and in a quickly-industrializing world becoming enchanted with the wonders of electricity, the electric fireplace seemed to be a match made in heaven.

However, there were major drawbacks to these early incarnations. Firstly, they were expensive, both to install and to upkeep. Not many American homes were outfitted with electricity, so for almost all families, the wooden stove was much more useful and viable.

Even for those families with the wealth required, the electric fireplace faced a second hurdle: the flames weren’t at all realistic. Ideas rarely start in perfection, but because of minor issues like 2 world wars and a Great Depression, it seemed like the electric fireplace would never exit stage right.

To the Future!

With the mid-century modern designer came the desire to create the “home of tomorrow,” which meant it wasn’t long before the majesty of electric fireplaces came to embrace the mind of daring 1950s architects and designers, always looking for fresh inspiration.

Mid-Century Modern American Electric Fireplace Commercial

This promotional commercial from 1958 shows an electric fireplace screen as propaganda to show the impressive advancements of the Free World. – image is a still from American Look (Part I) by Handy (Jam) Organization [public domain]

Not only were these electric fireplaces meant to be an interesting innovation in modern design; they were part of an active endeavor to show the brilliance and individuality of America and the “Free World” in the Cold War. Despite this efforts, the electric fireplace still had some major drawbacks, especially the lack of looking authentic, but with the advent of controlled electrical flame effects in 1981, possibility lay just around the corner. (See patent for “flickering flame effects” here)

Have No Fear, Dimplex Is Here!

Now that electric fire and flickering flame effects had gained practicality, all that remained was the inclusion of that certain something to make electric fireplaces look like actual fireplaces. The first to reach the mark was Dimplex, who patented the first “truly realistic ‘wood burning’ flame effect” electric fireplace in 1995.

With that patent, the age of the electric fireplace truly began, as Dimplex became the first to market the electric fireplace commercially. Finally, the average consumer could enter the dawn of a new age in home heating characterized by less fuss, and more eco-friendly options.

Since 1995, electric fireplaces have gained momentum in the US. In recent years, other competitors have entered the market, and engineers all across the board have continued to innovate, improve, and rethink what is possible.

Quite a journey, indeed.

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