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The History of the Smoky Chimney

Old Chimney DesignIf you have a fireplace today, you are fortunate that you can expect it to be virtually smoke-free. When there is some type of backdraft, a solution can usually be found unless the chimney was improperly constructed. In former times, on the other hand, smoky chimneys were an expected part of burning a fire in your home. Drafty chimneys were a problem not easily solved.

The earliest known chimneys were used in the 12th century in Europe. In Italy, chimneys were used as early as 1347. It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century that chimneys became very popular in Tudor England among members of the upper class. Although the chimneys were notorious for smoking, they were an improvement over the system used by the poor. The lower echelons of society were forced to burn fires on brick or clay bases, with no benefit of a chimney.

Chimneys were either built of clay or brick, and it became evident that clay chimneys were far more prone to catch fire. By 1719, England required all chimneys to be rebuilt or built using bricks. While brick chimneys are undoubtedly safer than those constructed of clay, the chimneys still smoked.

During the days when the earth was thought by most to be flat, many scientists also thought heat was a fluid. Without an understanding about heat, progress in preventing a smoky chimney was hindered.

Louis Savot, a Paris physician, made significant improvements to the chimney in the 16th century. He conducted experiments and came to the correct conclusion that a narrower fireplace and a smooth flue together create a stronger draft, meaning the chimney more efficiently carried smoke up and into the out-of-doors.

In the mid-18th century, wood shortages motivated inventors to create a stove which would be more efficient and reduce the amount of heat which was lost up the chimney. Benjamin Franklin was among those inventors, He invented a small cast iron Franklin stove, and it was widely adopted for the purpose of heating small rooms before the American Revolution. In 1787 Franklin published “Observations on the Causes and Cure of Smoky Chimneys.”

Count Rumford

Count Rumford

But it was Massachusetts-born Benjamin Thompson, who later became known as Count Rumford, who made the most significant contribution to eliminating smoky chimneys. Rumford challenged the errant theory that heat was a fluid. He invented a fireplace-chimney unit which was designed for the specific purpose of eliminating smoke; and it worked. He moved chimneys into walls rather than on the outside of houses, and that was one of the features which helped stop smoke from being released into the home instead of up the chimney.

Preventing a smoky chimney is all about the anatomy of the chimney, which is something our chimney sweeps are experts at. If you have a smoky chimney or any other issues related to venting systems, give us a call. We can help ensure that your fireplace is safe to use and that the smoke goes up the chimney.

Northeastern Chimney, Inc
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110
Phone: 860-233-5770

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