We have all heard the quaint story of how in the ‘olden times’ the pioneers/ancestors/colonists would fill their Fancy brass or copper bed warmers with the long turned wooden handles, with hot coals or embers from the stove or fireplace then use the bed warmer to warm the bedding material prior to retiring for the evening.
And those ubiquitous foot warmers in a variety of shapes; usually an exterior wooden frame to protect from direct contact with the heat, contained in a punched tin box with a door for loading ‘hot coals or embers’. A wire bail handle is attached for ease of transportation and they were placed under lap robes or blankets in a wagon or sleigh to keep ones feet warm.
I have been wanting to correct this bit of arrant history for some time and finally decided to act. Apparently people have heard this story and just accepted it as fact, and they keep repeating it in history books, etc., well I actually put it to the test. It doesn’t work.
Putting hot embers in a bed warmer, closing the lid immediately starts to extinguish the hot coals, no air circulation. Then if you take the slightly warmed bed warmer full of ember and move it around between the sheets and blankets, it leaves a mess, the fine ashes come out the holes on top and is totally unacceptable.
Putting hot coals or embers in a foot warmer then closing the door immediately reduces the available oxygen necessary for further combustion, extinguishing the fire within. It doesn’t work.
And just how did they actually use these devices? They heated up stones and put them inside to provide heat. They stay hot, don’t need air circulation and don’t give off gases such as carbon monoxide, dangerous in a closed environment. Look inside of an old foot warmer or old bed warmer, they are usually in terrible shape, full of dents from the hot rocks being repeatedly heated and used.