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Evolution of Fire: A Brief History of Wood-Burning Stove Technology

Wood Burning StoveIt must have been a momentous discovery when humans learned how to make a fire. In the very early days, fire meant two main things: heat, and the chance to prepare foods that required cooking. Today, we’ve got the cooking thing down to a science. And we’re doing pretty good on fire, too. What was once a big bonfire in a dark, desolate village has evolved into elegant, fully-contained heating units like wood stoves.


Fire in the cave

As people progressed, they began building fire pits inside their “homes,” which were basically caves, but homes, nonetheless. The problem was smoke, which accumulated because of lack of any kind of venting technology. It’s likely that while a cozy fire kept people warm, they spend a lot of time sitting around in smoky places.

Thousands of years passed, and mankind kept working with fire. Unfortunately the era of huge progress was still a ways off, and early earth-dwellers never really understood how to reduce or eliminate smoke in their living quarters – but then it also took a long time for people to figure out how to keep from being chased by marauding mountain lions. Yes, ancient populations certainly had plenty on their plates and a lot to learn. Then along came Benjamin Franklin.

The Franklin wood-burning stove

In the late 1700s, Franklin, a diplomat, speaker, writer and creator, invented the Franklin stove. It was a serious breakthrough for fire technology. The stove offered reasonable ventilation, which allowed people to enjoy the benefits of wood-fire heat without breathing in a bunch of smoke.

The Franklin stove was equipped with a convection chamber and, thanks to its heat-absorbing, cast iron design, emitted heat into a space for quite a while after the fire had gone out or been put out.

Not long after, another American named David Ritterhouse came up with the idea to vent wood stoves with an L-shaped stovepipe.

Moving into the 1800s and 1900s, wood stoves made some progress in design. Builders improved stoves’ airflow, and many stoves in this era contained a baffle system. Stoves were getting better and more user-friendly, but stoves from those days would never be able to pass the strict Environmental Protection Agency guidelines on particulate emissions that we have today.

Wood stoves, the energy crisis, and beyond

The energy crisis of the 1970s resulted in wood stoves becoming much more popular and in-demand. Stove designs in the seventies still were far from perfect – there was too much particulate emission and too great a level of creosote buildup. However, these imperfections didn’t reduce the stove’s popularity.

Evolution of the Wood Burning StoveThe first significant advances in wood stove technology happened in the 1980s, when the EPA got involved and set an emission limit of 7.5 grams per hour. This mandate meant stove manufacturers had two options: 1. Design their stoves to meet the EPA emissions regulation, or 2. Go find something else to make.

Since the 1980s, wood stove technology has made considerable advancements in terms of performance, efficiency and safety. If you’d like to know more about wood stoves and check out some models that might be perfect additions to your home, stop in at Burlington Fireplace & Heating in Burlington, Wisconsin. We’re located at 857 Milwaukee Ave. You can reach us by phone at (262) 763-3522.

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