From the fire in caves to wood and gas burners in our homes today, the fireplace has stood the test of time. For millions of years, human beings have gathered around fireplaces to keep warm and socialise. Here, we take a look at the fascinating history of fireplaces and how they have evolved.
Ancient fireplaces date back to 42 000BC, during the late Pleistocene era, when mammoth bones were used to create hearths. Archaeologists discovered these original fireplaces in caves where fire could not burn naturally – they had to have been started and controlled by man. These sooty sites are proof of how long humankind has been able to start, manage and control fire.
Fireplaces dating back as far as 2 500BC have been excavated in Ancient Greece, and other archaeological digs have discovered that in around 1000BC, citizens in what is now South Korea, developed a remarkably sophisticated system called “ondol” heating. It involved a process of burning wood in a furnace that pumped hot air through channels under the home. The concept of underfloor heating was born.
During the 9th century AD, central fireplaces which, as the name implies, were built in the centre of a room, became increasingly common. A hole was carved into the roof as a rudimentary flue. Due to their location, these fire pits could provide warmth for a large number of people and warm the home more effectively.
Fast-forward to the 12th century AD and fireplaces had moved from the ground in an attempt to increase airflow, Germany’s Prince Rupert designed a new and improved grate on which the firewood rested. This grate raised the wood off the floor so that air could circulate beneath it. We still use this innovation today.
Benjamin Franklin invented the first stove in 1741 and manufactured it using cast iron. Without the need for a chimney, he moved the stove to the centre of the room for the same reasons medieval folk preferred this location – to warm more people and heat the room more efficiently. Thanks to the use of iron, the wood-fueled stove continued to radiate heat even after the fire had been extinguished. He also lengthened the path the gas has to travel, improving heating efficiency.
In the late 18th century, Count Rumford of Massachusetts invented a new type of fireplace which was to become the basic template for modern-day fireplaces.
By the 20th century, fireplaces had evolved from being the primary source of heat for cooking, to be used as an additional source of warmth in winter. The functional also became the decorative and exciting and innovative new designs began to appear. One of the most notable of this period was the 1968 creation – a suspended fireplace that revolved 360°.
Today, consumers can choose from an enormous range of fireplaces, from classic wood burning freestanding fireplaces to gas wall fireplaces and everything in between. With technological advances and the invention of eco-friendly, energy-efficient models with stylish finishes, the fireplace has evolved into a masterpiece of form and function.
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