Have you ever wondered how the modern fireplace came to be? It’s a great question, and in this article, we’ll take a brief look at the history and development of the fireplace, from prehistoric to modern times.
Prehistoric Times – Ancient Cave Fires And In-Dwelling Fires
The first “fireplaces” weren’t fireplaces at all! Early humans first started making fires in holes in the ground, and in caves, where they could enjoy the warmth and shelter from the elements.
As we began to build more permanent dwellings, humans started building fire pits inside their huts, and in tents and other movable homes. Most huts had holes for ventilation, but there was still a high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke building up inside, which could lead to death or permanent harm.
Still, fires built in huts in this way were very popular, and we continued to build indoor fire pits like this until the Middle Ages.
The Middle Ages – The Hearth And The Hall
The hearth was a raised fireplace that was usually in the middle of a great medieval hall, where wood was burned and food was cooked. Smoke usually escaped through a smoke hole in the roof, and the rooms were larger, but there was still a risk of smoke and carbon monoxide sickening or killing residents.
Later on, louvers, which are angled slats that allow air but channel water and snow away, were used to cover these smoke holes, to prevent the elements from getting inside while still allowing smoke to escape. Smoke canopies, which helped channel smoke outside, were also used in some buildings.
16th-19th Century – The Rise Of The Chimney And The Fireplace
The first chimneys were introduced in the 11th or 12th century, but were extremely expensive to build and maintain, so fireplaces with chimneys did not become widespread for quite a while.
By the 17th century, Prince Rupert of Germany made several innovations, raising the grate of the fireplace, and improved its airflow and ventilation. Later on, in the 18th century, Ben Franklin developed the “Franklin Fireplace,” a convection chamber which greatly improved the efficiency of modern fireplaces and is still in use today. He also created a longer, innovative chimney that was more effective at venting smoke.
This coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and large blocks of buildings which required heat, necessitating the standardization of fireplace designs. This resulted in the modern fireplace and chimney as we know them today – as well as the introduction of the profession of the chimney sweep, who cleaned and maintained chimneys to keep them safe and prevent fires. This profession continues to this day – you can still find a chimney sweep in Jacksonville to care for your fireplace.
Today – The Fireplace Is Still Important!
Fireplaces provide warmth, natural heating, a focal point for rooms, and are still common features in modern homes. Technology has progressed to where we now have natural wood-burning fireplaces, gas-burning fireplaces, and even electric fireplaces.
Some things don’t change, and our love for the warmth of fires is one of them. Today’s chimneys and fireplaces differ quite a bit from ancient in-hut firepits, but they do the same thing – keep us warm and happy when the weather outside can be cold and unforgiving.