Ben Franklin

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  • Smoking and poor performing chimneys have been a problem for many thousands of years. Early cave dwellers didn't even have chimneys, they simply let the smoke rise to the top of the cave and find it's way out. We can only imagine what type of odor problems they had in their homes!

    Fast forward to Americans colonial times, and our most famous and industrious citizen, Mr. Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Franklin was perplexed by the fact that most fireplaces poured smoke into the living quarters and therefore took to studying the problem and possible solutions. In 1787, he published a document called "Observations on the Causes and Cure of Smoky Chimneys" which, as the title implies, attempted to explain the problem and possible solutions. Among his many words or wisdom were the following:
    . . . smoke is really heavier than air; and that it is carried upwards only when attached to, or acted upon, by air that is heated, and thereby rarefied and rendered specifically lighter than the air in its neighborhood.In other words, what Mr. Franklin found out was that chimneys which kept the smoke warm were most likely to draft better.

    Franklin never claimed a penny for any of his inventions, devices or experiments. He even distributed detailed plans of some of his inventions so that anyone could own them. The Pennsylvania fireplace, sometimes called the Franklin stove, acquired its name from Franklin, its inventor. This device, he said, made my living room twice as warm as it used to be with a quarter of the wood I formerly consumed . . . (Donovan 55). The heating of houses was growing more expensive, the wood was being used extremely inefficiently, and much of the heat was lost up the chimney. Franklin's fireplace solved these problems by using a number of passages and vents so that the cold air was drawn in from outside the building, warmed in the air passages, and then blown into the room. He said your whole room is equally warmed, so that the People need not crowd so close round the fire, but may sit near the window, and have the benefit of the light for reading, writing, and needlework. They may sit with comfort in any part of the room, which is a very considerable advantage in a large family, where there must often be two fires kept, because all cannot convenientl! y come at one (Seeger 166). Several people considered the fireplace a luxury for the wealthy. One of the most important features of Franklin's fireplace was the flue. Meltzer points out that the flue spread heat by circulating it into the room rather than simply sending it up the chimney and out (110). The fireplace also featured a Damper that can close the chimney off and keep out the cold. The fireplace soon became widely used, as it was efficient and available to anyone who could build one.

    A good friend of Mr. Franklins, named Count Rumford, also contributed much to modern fireplace design by figuring out the relationship between flue size and fireplace size. His calculations are still used today. You can find out more about Rumford fireplaces at

    Houses in colonial days had no insulation, and the windows and doors lacked weather stripping. As a result, small amounts of smoke leaking into a home were hardly noticed due to the vast amounts of fresh air constantly entering.;Ben_Franklin