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INVENTIONS are creations, revolutionary designs, or new procedures. All are new ways of doing things.

Cuddling works, but these “technologies” kept people warm, too

1. Image of a warming pan that held hot coals or stones

1. The warming pan. Click the
image for more information.

The “appliances” we normally associate with heating before the 20th century are really limited to the trusty wood or coal stove and the ever popular open hearth fireplace. We rarely describe how we stayed warm away from those appliances. Yet, in Canada, it was a definite must to figure out a way to stay warm no matter where we are during cold winter days and nights. Here are just a few items that were used, courtesy the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Warming Pan

This pan was used to keep early Canadians warm under the sheets at night. Coals or hot stones were placed into this metal pan and it was placed under the cover at the end of the bed. The pan is designed to detach from the handle which allows the hot warming pan to be pushed under the sheets into the centre of the bed. The warming pan was usually made out of silver(!), copper or brass with a wooden pole and decorated with engravings.

Foot Warmer

This little device was excellent when traveling by sleigh. The box, made from metal, was filled with coal or hot rocks and placed on the floor of the sleigh to place your feet on so they remain warm. There was a wooden frame around the metal box to allow air to circulate and keep the users feet from not being directly placed on the hot metal.

Ember Tray

Ember trays were used before the invention of matches. This would allow one to transfer still-burning coal or wood from one room or floor to the next to start a new fire. Made out of metal, they had air holes on the top to allow the coal to keep burning.

The Foot “Stove”

Another portable heater was the stool-sized, cubical, foot stoves. These were commonly seen in 17th century Dutch paintings, and were also popular in 18th century England and America. These “stoves” were particularly suitable for ladies, whose broad skirts could envelop the heat. A similar item was a child’s English high chair, circa 1690, with a place for a foot stove and enclosed panel sides to contain the warmth around the seated infant.

Section Gallery

2. Image of a foot warmer filled with coal or hot rocks3. Image of a metal tray used for carrying hot coals or wood embers

Factually Speaking

Want to be an inventor? Start by thinking about problems that you and your friends have.

Do you know who created
the basic gas burner, the Venturi type?

1. Image showing Bunsen burner flame types: A yellow flame is less efficient and cooler than blue

1. Bunsen burner flame types.
Click the image for more information.

You probably never wondered who invented the Venturi-type burners on the vast majority of household gas furnaces and gas appliances on the market today (2010), but you do know who — and it is a typical story of invention. A prominent scientist and professor at the Heidelberg University in Germany in the 1850s was frustrated with the lab burners of the day. They messed up experiments with carbon black, the flames were never hot enough and so experiments took a long time and all his sessions were extended.

He asked the university’s instrument maker, Peter Desaga, to make him a gas burner that was radically different than all those he was presently using. This professor’s idea was to premix air and coal gas (back then) to the correct mixture before it was burnt. All other lab burners mixed the fuel with the air as burning was taking place. Like a candle flame they gave off much light but not much heat.

In 1852 the professor and Desaga came up with a design that mixed air with the fuel gas in a tubular chamber, before it was burnt. They then added an air shutter to control the blend, so the flame could be adjusted from a yellow to a white and to a bright blue, the hottest. Just what the professor wanted! They tried it with several different fuel gases and found that a simple adjustment of the air shutter would work with any of the lab gasses so they burned efficiently.

By 1855 Peter Desaga had made over 50 of these burners for classroom use. The professor finally patented their burner as the “Bunsen Burner,” named after himself, Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen. However, he signed over all the patent rights to Peter for his work in designing and developing it, and those rights remain with the Desaga family to this day.

To think, you almost certainly used Bunsen burners in high school science lab. Did you know this story?

Section Gallery

2. Image of Robert Bunsen3. Image of an old Bunsen burner with post on the left side used to hold a specimen4. Image of a high-efficiency gas burner5. Image of a burner assembly

Factually Speaking

Test your prototype and, if its works, consider obtaining a patent, which tells everybody that you are the one who came up with idea and who has the right to profit from it.

The fractional horsepower [FHP]
electric motor

1. Image of an FHP electric motor

1. This FHP electric motor is a kind of cultural icon.
Click the image for more information.

It would be difficult to imagine a technology so fundamental to the look and feel of a Western 20th and 21st century people than that of the electric motor. The electric motor, an essential part of Canadian modernity, makes possible much of Canadian industrial and commercial life, as well as life in the homes of the nation. Here it provides the mechanical energy for water pumps, washing machines, refrigerators, as well as automatic central heating systems, and to a myriad appliances including vacuum cleaners, mixers and much, much more (see “More FHP Motor” in the sidebar).

It would be difficult too to imagine a more elegant device, one which directly reflects the laws, principles, and discoveries of science turning them into useful articles through extra ordinary human ingenuity (see “Science and the Electric Motor” in the sidebar). But it is to a particular species, the “fractional horsepower electric motor” (FHP), single phase, alternating current induction motor, to which we owe particular respect. For it is the device that made automatic central heating possible and affordable in the homes of the nation. In its many roles the FHP motor would become a commonplace of everyday life starting in the early years of the 20th century. It would come to be seen in much the same way as the computer is viewed today — both as driving forces changing Canadian lives and society.

Invading Canadian home, farm, and commercial life, the rapid diffusion of pervasive FHP electric motor technology in the 1920s and 1930s, would have immediate and long range impacts on life expectations and on what we do in the course of our day as Canadians. All the more surprising because the FHP motor is largely unobtrusive, largely hidden from public view, as a mere component part of the many contrivances it operates. Included are the combustion devices and warm air fans on which central automatic heating systems are dependent.

Section Gallery

2. Image of an FHP, resilient-mounted fan motor3. Image of an ECPM brushless DC furnace motor4. Image showing an automatic switch that converts from starting to running winding5. Image showing starting and running windings.

6. Image of an high tech, solid state, squirrel cage rotor7. Image of a resilient motor mount that reduces noise and vibration8. Page from a book that discusses rotating electric and magnetic fields

Article Sources

Cuddling works, but these “technologies” kept people warm, too

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #106).
  • Permanent Collections, McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec.
  • “Antiques Magazine,” March, 1946 issue, p. 156.
  • “Heating Stoves in the Eighteenth Century,” via

Do you know who created the basic gas burner, the Venturi type?

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #9. HD1002B).

The fractional horsepower [FHP] electric motor

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #67, HD1007J)
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada, T. H. Oliver Collection, Accession No. 2006.169.
  • Lloyd, Puchstein, Alternating-Current Machines: Second Edition (New York: Wiley and Sons, 1949).
  • William Timbie and Vannevar Bush, Principles of Electrical Engineering (New York: John Wiley and Sons 1940)”
  • Cycil Veinott, Fractional Horsepower Electric Motors, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948).
  • G. L. Oliver, The Fractional Horsepower Motor and Its Impact on Canadian Society and Culture, Material History Review, Spring 1996.


  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.

Factually Speaking

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.

Image Credits

Cuddling works, but these “technologies” kept people warm, too

  • Eden Pelletier.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.

Do you know who created the basic gas burner, the venturi type?

  • Arthur Jan Fijalkowski, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
  • Bunsen, Robert Wilhelm. Public domain.
  • No source.
  • No source.
  • Allied Kenco Sales, Houston, Texas.

The fractional horsepower [FHP] electric motor

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2006-168), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-33-233.
  • Ibid., 33-239.
  • Canadian Centre for Housing Technology/Centre canadien des technologies résidentielles, “Ten Years of Achievement,” via
  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2006-168), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-33-240
  • Ibid., 33-242.
  • Ibid., 33-243.
  • Ibid., 33-235.
  • Ibid., -36.