Human history has been intimately intertwined with fire since our birth. The discovery of fire has been fundamental to the success of our species. So how did we get from cavemen marveling at a tree set on fire after being struck by lightning to modern electric fireplaces that warm homes at the touch of a button?
Different cultures have different stories for the origin of fire. None of them really make much sense. I like to think some prehistoric caveman was smart enough to find a reliable way to start and keep the fire going, then shared the secret with his friends. From this clever caveman, we humans have flourished due to this brilliant technological find.
Archaeological expeditions around the globe have found evidence of rudimentary “fireplaces” in the form of fire pits dating back to prehistoric times. Despite the millions of years and technological advances, why we use fireplaces have not changed one bit: To bring people together and keep them warm. The how though, has changed a lot.
Stone age fire pits were nothing more than an area of space where someone could sustain a fire. Fast forward some million years to medieval times, and fireplaces began to appear indoors in the center of rooms with a hole in the ceiling to let out the smoke. The basic elements of the fireplace, the surround and the insert, have not changed since. The surround is the portion of the fireplace that surrounds the insert, where the heat is produced.
Then in the 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren, brilliant architect and the re-designer of St. Paul’s cathedral in London, decided he wanted some style to go with the function. He began designing beautiful fireplaces that matched its surroundings.
In America, Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin stove in the 1700s. Franklin created the stove out of cast iron which allowed the stove to radiate heat more efficiently. We still utilize stoves in many homes world wide today in the form of electric fireplace stoves.
Then in 1796, Count Rumsford basically perfected the design and developed a fireplace with a shallow opening allowing more heat to reflect into the room and streamlined the chimney by incorporating it into the wall of the house which drew more smoke out of the home. This design was adapted and used all the way up through the 19th century.
The 1950’s introduced ranch style homes which popularized central heating systems and diminished the use of fireplaces. The 70’s had a resurgence of fireplaces due to cost conscious consumers purchasing prefabricated models to warm their homes. The 80’s gave way to the environmental movement and consumers seeking more environmentally friendly and inexpensive solutions in the form of wood burning stoves.
Then in 1988, Dimplex introduced the Optiflame, the first commercial electric fireplace. In 1995, Dimplex added a realistic wood-burning flame effect to their electric fireplaces to create the Prototypical Electric Fireplace we see today. Since then, technologies have advanced to make the electric fireplace more efficient, emit more heat, and become the choice way to warm homes around the world.
Millions of years in technological advances have led us to this invention. From lightning strikes to pressing a button on a remote.
Oh, how far we’ve come!
More information on the History of Fire:
- How Fireplaces Once Saved the World
- The World’s 5 Most Famous Fireplaces
- The 10 Most Posh Fireplaces in the World
Photographic Sources and Credits: