Ever wonder who invented the electric water heater? Most of us take hot water for granted, not realizing the tremendous amount of innovation that was needed for us to enjoy this seemingly simple convenience.
Heating Water at the Source
Before the 19th Century, a hot bath was a rare treat. Water could only be heated by putting it in a kettle over a fire, so a hot bath took a lot of preparation. During this time, natural hot springs were prized resorts for relaxation.
The first device remotely resembling a water heater showed up in the 1850s, in the form of gas jets that heated the water in a bath from beneath. While this device didn't heat the water directly, it was the first time a device applied heat to a bath unit.
An Englishman named Benjamin Maughan developed a water heater in 1868 called The Geyser. Maughan's invention heated the water as it poured into the bath. This device was difficult to control and quite dangerous, quickly building a reputation for those brave enough to use it.
Edwin Rudd and the Modern Water Heater
Edwin Rudd, a Norwegian mechanical engineer, is the founder of the modern-day electric water heater. Rudd invented a storage-based water heater in 1889, and founded the Rudd Manufacturing Company to manufacture and sell these devices.
Rudd's design consisted of a large tank to store hot water, and a heat source to warm it to the desired temperature. The drawback to these water heaters is that once the storage empties, it takes time for new water to reach the right temperature, since water entering the storage tank is cold. When the hot water runs out, it can take a few hours for the supply to replenish.
Tankless Water Heaters
Given the drawbacks to storage-based hot water heaters, tankless water heaters were the next logical step in water heater development. Tankless water heaters heat the water as it passes through the line, instead of heating a volume of water and holding it in a storage tank. With a tankless water heater, you only heat the water as you need it; therefore, it's much more efficient than a storage-based model.
Some people in warmer climates actually used solar-powered water heaters. These water heaters operate on the storage-model, except that they use solar energy to heat the water instead of electricity. These systems aren't viable everywhere, but they're a good alternative where there's plenty of sunlight.
Take a look back at life in 1900, when keeping a home clean meant hours of manual labor.
The story of who invented the microwave, like so many stories of twentieth century innovation, begins with a weapons manufacturer.