Chimney Sweeping History: How It All Began
Today, the certified chimney professionals at the Felgemacher Fireplace Shop in Buffalo, NY, drive immaculate service vehicles. They arrive at homes and businesses from Niagara Falls to Webster and communities throughout Western New York neat and clean with personal protective gear. But chimney sweeping wasn’t always that way, for they have a long, storied history. So, today, we’re going to take a stroll down memory lane to learn the sweeping changes through history about how the chimney sweep went from being one of the most dangerous jobs to a profession focused on fire prevention that it is now.
Introducing the Chimney Sweep
Like many Americans, your first impression of a chimney sweep was probably as a child after being introduced to Dick Van Dyke as Bert the Chimney Sweep in the Mary Poppins film adaptation of this 1934 children’s classic. Van Dyke would reprise his role as the soot-covered chimney sweep with his cane and brush, the tools of the trade, in the 1968 musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, arguably the most popular children’s film of all time. However, the history of chimney sweeping began much earlier and wasn’t nearly as glorious.
How It All Began
It all began on the cold, dreary cobblestone lanes of 16th-century London when wood-burning fireplaces were the primary home heating source. The dark puffs of smoke flowing into the air from masonry stacks perched above the Elizabethan and Tudor terrace houses were a common sight that kept chimney sweeps very busy throughout the bustling and growing city. The job of chimney sweeping was a very long and tiring day as they went door to door cleaning long narrow chimney flues. Since most homes at the time had a fireplace in every room, the sweep would need to scour multiple ducts at each house. The job was messy and dangerous, using only a long brush and cane. As a result, chimney sweeps would go home covered from head to toe in soot.
The Dangers of Early Chimney Sweeps
Unfortunately, not all chimney sweeps went home each night for dinner with their families. The job was dangerous, resulting in many deaths from injuries and inhaling harmful contaminants like creosote, soot, and ash, natural byproducts of combustion. In addition, many young children died in on-the-job accidents. The lack of standards at the time meant each sweep had a preferred cleaning method, some of which wouldn’t be considered safe by modern standards. One of those early methods was using young boys to go on the roof and clean the chimney because their small stature allowed them to climb inside to sweep the narrow flues.
The Introduction of Chimney Cleaning Safety Laws
Fortunately, the job of chimney sweep would eventually change for the better. The modern chimney sweep started to take shape two centuries later when English inventor and builder Joseph Glass introduced his successful chimney apparatus in 1828. Considered superior, it replaced George Smart’s apparatus, for which he received the Gold Medal Award in 1805 from the Society of Arts. Glass’s invention resulted in the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1834, the first government standard in the industry. Glass also played a crucial role in advancing standards and safety practices until his death in 1867 at the age of 76. His efforts led to the British parliament’s introduction of the Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act of 1840 and the Chimneys Regulation Act of 1864. Both laws outlawed employing children in the chimney-sweeping industry, as new safety practices were now the law of the land.
Chimney Sweeping in America
The role of a chimney sweep in America was more accessible and safer as American flues are wider than their English cousins. But wood-burning fireplaces began fading into history in the 1960s with the introduction of electric heating systems. And the need for chimney sweeps began to disappear. However, with the introduction of gas fireplaces and stoves in the 1970s, the chimney sweep industry is making a comeback that continues into the 21st Century.
Chimney Sweeping in the 21st Century
Today, the Felgemacher Fireplace Shop has a wide selection of EPA-certified wood and gas fireplaces, inserts, and freestanding stoves in traditional and modern styles. In addition, our certified chimney sweeps follow the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and codes using a wide variety of professional equipment, tools, and supplies, to thoroughly clean your chimney, keeping your home and family safe.
The Felgemacher Fireplace Shop in Cheektowaga, NY, has everything for your hearth. Call (716) 482-1820 or contact us online to schedule an appointment today!