What Is the History of the Modern Furnace?

Mar 11, 2022

It wasn’t always as easy as switching a button to keep your home feeling warm and cozy. Once upon a time, centralized heating systems did not exist. So what did folks use to stay warm amid the cold winter season? At New Albany Heating & Cooling, we have a pretty good idea. To paint a picture of what it was like before centralized furnaces and heating equipment, let’s start at square one:

Fireplaces and Open Fires

Before centralized heating equipment, it was hard for families to stay warm during brutal winter conditions. At the time, the only way folks could possibly keep warm during the winter was through wood-burning fireplaces or an open fire. Unfortunately, after these fires went out, homes and families wouldn’t stay warm for much longer because there was no consistent heat production and heat distribution throughout the residence, like the use of modern equipment. 


At long last, the Romans created a type of radiator that produced space heat called the hypocaust. Although the Romans didn’t invent the first modern radiator, a man by the name of Franz San Galli did in the year 1855. With the assistance of a man named Dave Lennox, Galli improved indoor heating for all by using low-cost, coal-fueled cast iron radiators.

Bunsen Burners

The year 1855 was a time full of heating inventions that would benefit homeowners for years to come; some components like the pilot light are even used in modern residential furnaces today. On top of the development of the first radiator, the Bunsen Burner made its debut in society the same year. Intended to heat his laboratory at the University of Heidelberg, German Scientist Dr. Robert Bunsen created the Bunsen Burner to produce heat without soot and blended gas with air controlled before combustion. Because of this development, propane, oil, and gas-fired home heating systems boomed and became in very high demand for households across the country. 

Electric Heat

Soon after the development of the Bunsen Burner, electric heat would sweep many homes by storm in 1882. Albert Marsh, otherwise known as the “father of the electrical heating industry,” discovered metal chrome in 1905. Marsh’s discovery converted electricity into heat by pushing electric currents through the thermal element, still used today. This allowed Marsh to produce a heating element that would be 300 times strong than other heating machinery sold at the time.

Centralized Heating Equipment

In 1919, Alice Parker created the first-ever American patented centralized heating unit. With the new help of centralized heating systems regulating and evenly distributing warm temperatures throughout homes, no more worrying about how you and your loved ones will stay warm each winter season. 

Forced Air Distribution  

Thanks to the development of centralized heating units, the first coal-fueled electric fan and duct system were manufactured to distribute forced heat throughout all homes. Using this system allows heat from the furnace to travel through the house using a duct system, allowing all rooms around the home to be heated evenly by a single heating unit. Gravity-fed systems were prevalent around this time and, unfortunately, required a lot of ductwork throughout most home basements to evenly distribute and circulate heated air. 

The Modern Furnace and Smart Technologies 

Because gravity-fed heating systems were not as productive as folks would’ve hoped for, further developments were made, and smart technologies and motor-driven fans were introduced as a more efficient way of keeping households warm. Motor-driven fans were designed to transfer forced heated air through smaller, more compact, rectangular duct systems to ensure even heat distribution. This piece of equipment is controlled through a thermostat that measures and controls the home’s temperature by distributing heated air by activating the gas burner. The growth and progress of modern heating machinery not only provided homes with more efficient heating solutions but also enhanced indoor air quality by using air filters to clean filthy recirculated air. 

After quite some time, heating technologies and equipment now run more efficiently, bring optimal comfort to everyone in your home, and can even be controlled remotely, even when you’re away. Having said that, if you find the heating equipment in your home isn’t running like it used to or it is just plain out obsolete, give us a call today at New Albany Heating & Cooling, and we will get you’re home stocked with top-of-the-line residential heating equipment in no time. You can reach us today at (614) 636-5002, or schedule an appointment online now by clicking here!