Training Program for Masons
Rumford Fireplace History

Rumford fireplaces were common from 1796, when Count Rumford first wrote about them, until about 1850. Jefferson had them built at Monticello, and Thoreau listed them among the modern conveniences that everyone took for granted. There are still many original Rumford fireplaces-often buried behind newer renovations-throughout the country.

Count Rumford, for whom the fireplace is named, was born Benjamin Thompson in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1753 and, because he was a loyalist, he left (abruptly) with the British in 1776. He spent much of his life as an employee of the Bavarian government where he received his title, "Count of the Holy Roman Empire." Rumford is known primarily for the work he did on the nature of heat.

Rumford, perhaps the last great "empirical philosopher", tinkered and experimented with the deep square English fireplaces of his day. He found that by making the firebox shallow with reflective angled covings he could maximize the radiant heat output. And by rounding the breast and narrowing the throat opening he could minimize the excess air the fireplace required to carry away the smoke.

Fortunately, Rumford's essays on fireplaces, although out of print, are still readily available in libraries. The easiest to get is in The Collected Works of Count Rumford; Sanborn Brown, ed.; Harvard Press; 1969; vol. 2. Or you could read a reprint of Rumford's original fireplace essays kindly provided by Stanley W. Brown, Curator of Rare Books, Dartmouth College Library. And you might also read Jim Buckley's article about Rumford's fireplaces from a modern perspective.

Rumford fireplaces are more popular now than at any time since 1850. The traditionally tall Rumfords look appropriate in today's popular, classically designed homes with tall ceilings. The legendary heating efficiency of the Rumford is attractive to those who are building energy efficient homes and are concerned about air quality.

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