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.
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
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
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.