Historic Water Heaters

April 15, 2009

Ewart Royal Geyser heaterDating from about 1895, this British heater is gas-fired. It was installed in the bathroom next to the bathtub. Showers were virtually nonexistent. To operate, you light the pilot, turn on the water, then turn on the main gas.

Temperature is adjusted by putting in the right amount of cold water. When shutting it off you had to be careful not to shut off the water before turning off the gas. If you did forget, the heater would quickly be ruined, probably melted down!

The heater works by mixing hot gases and water, which although very efficient, wasn’t particularly clean. British heaters have an interesting safety device built in that you can see on the side of it.

The “shepherd’s crook” actually makes an air gap in the water supply. This prevents any tainted water from the heater from possibly getting back into the water supply, (a rather modern concept). The slightly tainted hot water was to be used only for bathing. This heater burns roughly 100,000 Btu per hour.

Dayton bath heater
This is the American version of the Ewart (British) geyser. Operation was similar except that this one kept flue gases and water separate, so you could cook with or drink the hot water safely. It dates from 1902.

People figured out that you could, with enough valves, use heaters like this for more than one thing. This one came with sufficient plumbing to supply a bathtub and sink.

They could also be used to run the newfangled “rain bath” (shower). Originally rain baths were only proper for sick people. Bathing in general was frowned upon as being effeminate and unhealthy. It was only after 1863, when a bathtub was installed in the White House that bathing began to lose its bad image.



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