You are here: Home > 1-800-679-8718 > Articles > History of Rumford Fireplaces

Rumford Fireplace

Rumford Fireplaces first rose to prominence during the latter half of the 19th century, but there has been an incredible resurgence in recent times due to the classic appearance they can offer a modern home. With more and more people opting for energy-efficient homes, it also seems fitting in a crowded market that such a simplistic fireplace which was designed almost 170 years ago, is fast becoming the number one choice to heat homes all over America.

The popularity of Rumford Fireplaces

Rumford fireplaces are now being used nationally within the construction industry, and because of the increased demand for these fireplaces, even building codes have had to change to accommodate them during the construction process. Yes, the popularity of this magnificent fireplace can be traced back to 1790’s Ohio, when Thomas Jefferson built a fireplace in Monticello. By the middle of the century, these were already common but the trouble is that not every Rumford Fireplace was the same standard of quality as the next.

Misinterpretation of design

The difficulty with the quality in this respect lay in the fact that a lot of people seemed to misinterpret the design of the fireplace, meaning many of them were quite different from the originals. It’s thought that Thomas Jefferson’s Rumford was not as streamlined as it could be, and he did, in fact, send letters to the manufacturers that included drawings of the fireplace, and how they could be improved.

Suggested alterations

As with any popular product, Rumfords' was sent design suggestions, not just by Thomas Jefferson, but by Thomas Danforth, in 1796, James Meese in 1804, Gillespie in 1904, and Vrest Orton in 1795. Darnforth suggested an issue with the ‘Smoke shelf,' Meese claimed that the fireplace gave off radiation, Orton confirmed Meeses’ claims and others that were around during this time. Finally, Gillespie tried to improve on the design and was rumored to be doing so to make money from it.

Rumford Fireplace design today

The design of the Rumford Fireplace that are produced today are slightly different from the original, but they are certainly more like the original than they have ever been. With a rounded breast and a straight back, the fireplaces are more like Thomas Jefferson’s, making them more historically significant. However, Thomas Jefferson was not responsible for the name of the fireplace; it was in fact down to Benjamin Thompson of Massachusetts who later became known as ‘Count Rumford.' Thompson knew down to minute detail how fireplaces worked and sought to improve them through his designs.

Why do Rumford Fireplaces work so well?

Rumfords’ work so well because they radiate heat out into the room, rather than up into the chimney. With a wide and tall opening, they were coated in a white wash so the heat was reflected away from them.

When Count Rumford rounded the fireplace breast, he did so in an attempt to encourage the smoke to flow up the chimney. In designing the breast this way air that enters the chimney and ends up above the fire does not mix with the fire. Instead, it is sent back up the chimney, keeping the smoke below it as it flows up. When modern fireplaces are built, they are often quite different from Rumford’s design in that the fireback is often rolled forward, or sloped, making them less efficient than they could be. However, when new Rumford’s are designed, they have taller openings that make them a lot more efficient than many other brands, simply because they encourage smoke to travel up the chimney, and more heat to radiate into the room.

Count Rumford worked to deign chimneys that would no longer smoke, and although his essays on the subject were popular, they were in his own words “Laborious”, allegedly because they were hugely descriptive. However it was his wish to ensure that fireplaces were the right shape, and his designs were thought to include a special device that that will enable those building the fireplace to mark the correct angle for the covings.

As popular as the fireplaces were in the past, and with a promise to experiment with a wide range of grates, and then publish the results from those experiments, they never were. Instead, Count Rumford published another essay two years later that failed to detail his experiments. Fast forward two hundred years, and it’s thought that the Superior Clay Corporation in Ohio has achieved what Rumford was unable to do. The “right grate” may have been found and perhaps even make these incredible fireplaces even more superior, which is really what Rumford wanted all along.