fireplace flame

A History of Fire: From Fire Pits to Electric Fireplaces

5 min read

Fire is one of the earliest human discoveries, but do you know how contained fires came to be?

Fire has been around for many, many years and was, in fact, one of the earliest human discoveries, becoming crucial to our survival. It has been around for so long that its origin story varies from culture to culture. 

It Started With Outdoor Fire Pits

To start, controlled fires started in outdoor fire pits. Eventually they moved inside, but not in the manner that we see today. Instead, people used centralized fire pits and had holes in their roofs to vent the smoke. This soon evolved, and hearths, which is the stone floor of the fireplace, were created. These hearths remained in the middle of the home and smoke was still exiting through a hole in the roof.

Introducing the Chimney

Open hearths and ceiling holes continued to be used throughout the middle ages but eventually it became clear that a different approach was needed. This was when chimneys came to be. In fact, the chimney was invented to make the heating of two story homes possible, allowing fireplaces to be put on each level.

This was because chimneys allowed fireplaces to be moved from the center of the room to an outside wall. At first, the venting system was built horizontally, but it was soon discovered that this was not sufficient. Vertical chimneys were then introduced, using drafts to expel the smoke. It was in the 1700s that the stove was invented by the same man who invented electricity, Benjamin Franklin. These stoves were constructed of cast iron and used coal and wood to generate heat. They were placed in the center of the room and radiated heat throughout the entire room, even after the fire had gone out.

Wood burning fireplace in living room

Evolving to Meet Industrial Needs 

Nearing the end of the 1700s, Count Rumford made design alterations to the fireplace. He made a shallower opening than had been previously used. This meant that less heat would escape and the smoke would have a more direct route out of the home. Then came the industrial revolution, which brought fireplace standardization. It was during this time that functionality stopped being the sole purpose of fireplaces and an interest in the ambiance they provided, grew. It wasn’t until 1912 that the electric flame was invented, but it was not the preferred means for home heating until later.

This was likely due to the introduction of central heating in the mid-1990s. This innovation meant that fireplaces were no longer needed as a primary source of heat. That being said, fireplaces continued to have design appeal and were still included in some homes as a décor element. This is probably due to the continued popularity of fireplace ambiance, a popularity which is accredited to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his “Fireside Chats”.

Growing Popularity for Personal, Functional Heating 

In the 1970s, the popularity of fireplaces as a functional heating device grew again, especially amongst cost-conscious homeowners. This is also when prefabricated fireplaces were introduced, eliminating the need for masonry fireplaces. But, as the 1980s rolled in, people started calling for a more environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional wood burning fireplace. As a result, direct vent gas technology was invented and electric fireplaces gained further approval.

It was not until 1995 that the first commercial electric fireplace with truly realistic “wood burning” flames was introduced by none other than Dimplex. As a result, electric fireplaces continued to gain greater market share due to the fact that they are more environmentally friendly and safe than their gas and wood alternatives, yet still provide an authentic fireplace experience. 

The Future Looks Electric 

It’s now widely expected to have an electric fireplace in the home not only for their elegant and modern styling, but for environmental benefits as well (which is necessary as the world shifts to improve its carbon footprint). Compared to other fireplaces, electric fireplaces are more economical than gas fireplaces, there’s greater control over the temperature of the flame, and they provide better safety for your house. 

Check out our blog: The benefits of electric fireplace and why it’s the safest option for your home.

Sierra Linear Electric Fireplace, group of people enjoying a meal

For more information on how to find the right fireplace for your home, check out our Blog: Electric Fireplaces vs. Wood Fireplaces vs. Gas Fireplaces, Which Do You Choose?

Dimplex remains committed to innovating today and into the future to bring consumers the best electric fireplace technology. Learn more about our commitment to providing a greener future with our fireplaces and browse our wide selection of electric fireplaces