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18th Century Heating

Brrr...it's getting colder and we in the 21st century are turning up our thermostats, checking our furnaces, and stocking up on fuel for the winter. But during the winter of 1786-87, the soldiers based at Fort Steuben had no such amenities.


Of course, central heating as we know it today was rare. Most homes in America were heated with a fireplace in the early 1700s. This was a very simple method but also very inefficient as most of the heat from the wood escaped through the chimney. Only about 10% of the heat was radiated outwards into the room, which only kept that area warm. During the winter, families would mainly gather together in the room with the fireplace as the rest of the home would remain cold. An example of the hearth at the time is in the First Federal Land Office.


The iron stove was another heating method that became popular in the United States in the 1700s. Initially, the iron stove was a German design that was mass-produced in the USA during these times. This stove used wood as well, but it was more efficient than the fireplace because heat gave off from all sides while the toxic gasses and smoke were sent to the outside through a pipe. People mainly adopted the stove because it was more efficient and safer.


The primary source of fuel for the fireplace and stove was wood in the 1700s. There were no chain saws or power equipment to cut trees and split the wood, no trucks to haul it home. But the soldiers at the fort – like most of their contemporaries – were skilled with saws and axes and the special tools used for cutting firewood at the time. Felling trees, cutting and splitting wood helped warm their bodies outside while the flames in the fireplace heated their bodies in the log blockhouses. Visiting historic sites such as Fort Steuben helps us better appreciate the modern conveniences we enjoy today.

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