Lessons from Count Rumford
Before earning his title as an employee of the Bavarian government, Count Rumford was known as Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, Massachusetts. Born in 1753, Thompson
distinguished himself as a soldier and scholar before making a hasty departure for England in 1776 because of his loyalty to the British Crown.
Rumford may have been a Loyalist, but he never lost his Yankee ingenuity. An amateur physicist who experimented with gunpowder, insulation andheat, he invented a drip coffeepot, a double boiler and thermal underwear, among other things.
But Rumford is best known for the fireplace design that still bears his name today. The Rumford fireplace was a dramatic departure from common fireplaces of the day. Instead of the deep, rectangular firebox that predominated at the time, Rumford’s design called for a small, shallow firebox with angled back walls and a restricted chimney opening.
His new fireplace proved to be revolutionary. The firebox reflected much more heat into the room, the streamlined throat eliminated the smoke problems that plagued more primitive designs, and more heat was produced from less firewood. Rumford’s celebrity spread as he trained masons to modify old fireplaces and build new ones. Thomas Jefferson had Rumford fireplaces built at Monticello, Benjamin Franklin praised the innovative design, and Rumford’s name became well known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Today masons and fireplace manufacturers are still duplicating Rumford’s details.
As we look ahead to another heating season and all the cost and comfort issues associated with winter weather, Count Rumford’s inventive energy is worth applying to our present-day challenges. If the good Count were alive today, he’d be an ardent advocate of home energy audits and all the improvements that can transform an energy-wasting house into a model of energy efficiency. Have you had your house Rumfordized yet? If not, call and schedule a home energy checkup.