Heating Trivia

November 8, 2001
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Clothing For Pipes?

The necessity for pipe insulation was recognized after the Civil War. Such insulation was referred to as “clothing” and usually was made of plaster, felt, or even lamp-black, a fine carbon powder. These “modern” insulating materials had replaced “hair felt,” a covering made from cattle hair. “It was found to have one serious defect — under the action of heat, vermin bred rapidly in this material.”

Mushrooms In The Theater

About 1890, George Knowles invented a register consisting of a short tube with a bell-shaped cap, designed to be placed on the floor below a theater seat so warm air flowed up, warming the patron. These “mushroom ventilators” were popular into the 1930s, but did have one drawback: “…since the air comes up from around the feet, it carries with it the dust and odors from the feet.”

Hand me that Stillson!

That familiar pipe wrench originated in 1869 when a former steamboat fireman, Daniel Stillson, suggested that the heating and piping firm Walworth manufacture a radical new ratcheting design of wrench for screwing pipes together. Before that, serrated blacksmith tongs were used. A skeptical James Walworth told Stillson to make up a sample and “either twist off the pipe or break the wrench.” After a piece of twisted off wrought iron pipe was displayed to the company’s astounded officers, they ordered Stillson to patent the design. Walworth manufactured the wrench, and Daniel Stillson was paid $80,000 in royalties during his lifetime. The Stillson pipe wrench continues to be manufactured and used today with no change in design.

The Power Of Cheese

As forced-air heating systems came into use, the need for filtering was evident. One of the earliest approaches was to use cheesecloth, stretched on a frame or fashioned into bags. Framed cheesecloth filters were touted as reusable by simply taking a broom and brushing them off. They were widely used before WW I.

The Original Split System

Some early heating systems in large buildings used a combination of radiators on the outside walls and a forced-warm-air system. This was referred to as a “split system.”

Marriage Or A Heating System?

According to Ecclesiastes: “…if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone?”

The Root Of Our Problems

In 1850, an American physician noted that “Vitiated air produces deformity, imbecility, and idiocy.” It encourages “pusillanimity and cowardice, vice, intemperance, and use of intoxicating drinks.” It “produces inaptitude for study and therefore, ignorance.” We’d better open the windows!

The Simple Solution To “Sick Buildings”

“If there is a dung heap in the room, it must be removed. There is no use in trying to blow away the smell”; so said German hygienist Max Von Pettenkofer in the 1800s when discussing the merits of effective ventilation in buildings. Addressing the “human problem” in buildings, another commentator said, “It is much more effective to wash dirty bodies and dirty clothes with water than with air.”

Self-Made Engineers

After the Civil War, it was common practice to sell a boiler and furnish piping plans to the buyer. The surge of business in the late 1800s led to situations where “men who were totally incompetent for the work came in time to be doing the plan-making work for some of the manufacturers. That the results were not more disastrous than they often proved is a matter of wonder.”

Sound Like Anyone You Know?

William Baldwin became one of the most renowned experts in steam heating at the end of the 19th century. But it took him a while, perhaps because of one of his first experiences in 1869. “I had occasion to accompany one of the best-known heating engineers in New York into a building. I was a novice and simply went in the capacity of an assistant. The engineer walked into a room, counted the windows, noted it was a corner room, and said, ‘I want 60 square feet (of radiation) for this room.’ He walked into the next room, found there were two windows in it, and said, ‘I want 40 square feet for this room,’ and so on, through the building making his arbitrary ratings.

“I asked: ‘How do you proportion your radiators?’ With a puzzled look on his face, he replied: ‘Ah — you are in a hurry to learn this business.’ I said no more at that time, but a while later we visited the basement to see about the boilers and the engineer said: ‘Well, for this building we want two boilers about 4 feet in diameter, and, well, about 12 feet long.’

“I asked: ‘By what rule did you find your boilers, assuming you have established your radiators by some method that is fairly correct?’ His reply again was: ‘Ah — you are in a great hurry to learn this business.’ At that time I supposed that the engineer had some data, or some method that approximated a scientific one, but a few months later the engineer declared that the whole thing was guessed at; that there was no method, and that he knew of none, except that under about similar circumstances he had used similar radiators.”



Steam Heating With No Boiler

One attempt to lower the cost of heating systems was the introduction of the “gasteam radiator” in 1897. The idea was to place a small gas burner under the radiator and directly heat it. These were made by a number of manufacturers through the 1920s.

The English Opinion Of American Heating

Although most of the early advances in heating took place in Great Britain, English practice was to maintain very cool rooms, with inside temperatures rarely exceeding the 50s. A 19th-century English visitor, experiencing our warm buildings, noted that our systems were “…a terrible grievance to persons not accustomed to it, and a fatal misfortune to those who are. Casual visitors are nearly suffocated, and constant occupiers killed.”

A Leak Can Prevent A Leak

The cast iron piping systems used for early heating systems used hub and spigot joints that were made tight with a “rust joint.” Jute or cotton packing was tamped into the hub around the pipe, then a mixture of iron filings, sal ammoniac, and sulfur was puttied into the joint. This would harden into a cold weld, making the joint leakproof. Variations of the joint compound were used, one version using urine in the mix. It was found, by on-the-job experiments, that human urine made superior joints!

Publication date: 11/12/2001

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