An open fire was high-tech in the beginning, but mankind needed more than that to live a comfortable life. The Greeks invented central heating, but the Romans perfected it with the hypocaust system. They built hollow channels inside floors and walls that brought the warm air from the fires in the lower rooms all around the building.
The Koreans also invented a style of central heating called ondol dating from 37 BC to 668 AD. This type of heating transfers the heat from wood smoke to the underside of a floor. Even today ondol refers to any kind of under floor heating.
When Rome fell to the Germanic tribes, open fires were the source of heating again and, with a few exceptions, people lived with smoke, dirt and uneven heat. In the 13th century, the Cistercian monks of the Royal Monastery of our Lady of the Wheel located in Aragon, Spain near the borders of the Muslim inroads into Europe, enjoyed central heating and indoor plumbing. This system is still there and was learned from the Syrians who crafted a central heating system of under floor pipes that led from a furnace room. The monks modified the system by using hot water that created steam. This is an early ancestor of the modern radiator system. In the bath-houses in Syria and other places in the medieval Islamic world, central heating was still used.
Around the 12th century chimneys were invented, but they were not very efficient in removing smoke from a room. Gradually they became better, and by the early 16th century were commonplace in England. In 1700, central heating was built into Peter the Great’s Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, and shortly thereafter systems were built in French, English and Swedish houses.
Benjamin Franklin, in the American Colonies, invented the Franklin Stove which could be placed in the middle of a room, and the radiating heat would more efficiently heat the room for much less fuel. Gradually, over about 30 years, the stove was improved with an exhaust pipe and became the basis for a central heating system. Steam heating wasn’t invented until James Watt created the first practical steam engine for commercial use. By the 1800s, hot water central heating systems began to become more common. From this time, for the next hundred years, central heating again became generally used. In 1829, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania had flush toilets, showers and central heating. More luxury than the President of the United States enjoyed.
In 1869, bungalows were built in England with central heating, which was considered a luxury and expensive for the time. Even four decades later, when Mark Twain built his home in the U.S., central heating was still considered a luxury.
In the early 20th century, central heating became more common in newly built houses, and it changed the way families lived. They no longer gathered around a central fireplace, but could enjoy heat in any room in the house. Now they’re so common, people are forever typing bathroom renovations Syndey into their browsers, or how to bleed a radiator. Certainly this wouldn’t have been the case back in the Roman times!!
Central heating also changed fashion. Women no longer needed heavy, warm clothing when indoors and could enjoy more stylish gowns and dresses.