The contemporary fireplace sitting in your living room right now is the descendant of a long line of fireplaces that have, in a very discernable way, changed the shape of civilization. Because we have all grown up with modern conveniences of electric heat, electric light, and kitchen ranges, we often take for granted that our not-too-distant ancestors (some of us even our grandparents) had to work hard to keep their house warm, cook a meal, or simply boil water.
Here is a very brief history of the fireplace:
The Discovery of Fire
Our species first discovered fire possibly millions of years before we learned how to harness it. There are signs that humans were exposed to forest fires and grassland fires in the African savannas, which weren’t uncommon. About 1.5 million years ago, our ancestors started using flames to ward off predators, keep insects away, illuminate the night, and keep warm. When we actually learned to start fires is a debatable issue, but most specialists say that we began to use flints 400,000 years ago. When we started to light fires on a regular basis to clear landscapes, cook food, build hearths around which families and tribes gathered, and construct weapons may have only happened as recently as 7,000 years ago. In the relatively short time we’ve been able to start a fire, our relationship to it has certainly changed.
Hestia: Goddess of the Hearth
Our ancestors did not take anything for granted—not even the hearth they used daily in their homes. There is clear evidence of this in the level of reverence the Ancient Greeks and other civilizations felt about the critical role of the fireplace. Hestia, one of the first-generation Olympians, was the goddess of the fireplace, the home, and domesticity itself, showcasing the close link between family life and fire. This ancient civilization understood the social, political, economic, and religious importance of the household fire.
The Range: Modernizing the Kitchen Hearth
In the late 18th century, modern homes were utilizing open-flames over the fireplace. It was in the 1780s when two significant inventions were created that would change the landscape of domesticity and the idea of the fireplace forever. An English ironmonger named Thomas Robinson patented in 1780 a cast-iron cooking range, which looks a lot like the modern cooker today. In 1783, another inventor in the iron industry, Joseph Langmead, added a hot-water tank to the design, thus creating the world’s first boiler. Since then, the fireplace began its slow decline as the symbol of the kitchen and began to take on a new role: a symbol of comfort.
There are now more options than ever when choosing your fireplace. From wood to gas to electric to ethanol, there is no shortage of choices when it comes to selecting the perfect fireplace for your living room, outdoor space, or wall. Fireplaces in the 21st century are safer, cleaner, and convenient. But if you’re in the mood to cook over an open fire, like our ancestors, a BBQ grill might do well to satisfy your craving!