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Predictions for the Heating Industry

In 1942 a group of industry leaders wrote a booklet containing their predictions for the future of heating in America after the war. Were they correct? Find out in this episode.


Episode Transcript

One of the treasures that I have in my library is a booklet titled, Trends in Heating Developments. Coal-Heat magazine published that booklet in July, 1942. The editor asked a group of industry leaders to predict what American heating would be like after the war. This is from the introduction:

"Long-time trends in housing, building construction, shortages of materials owing to the war, governmental restrictions, availability of fuel, research, competition, consumer demand all contribute to changes in heating-equipment design, manufacturing, and distribution.

“As soon as the war is over we can expect a 'battle-royal' for the housing-, heating- and fuel markets. It is inevitable. Years of neglect of most of the heating equipment in use will result in a tremendous market for repairs, replacement, and modernization. Coupled with the pent-up demand for new housing and the shifts in population, a building boom should occur.

"The restrictions under which industry is working will only intensify the competition between the furnace, boiler, stove, and heater outlets – between the coal, oil and gas interests. There will be much competition for the consumer’s dollar. Some industries will be forced to fight for their survival.

"If we think in terms of human comfort, successful heating becomes inseparable from housing or building construction, the heating system as a whole, and the operation and maintenance of the heating facilities. Basically, we must remember that no fuel is any better than the equipment in which it is used. The equipment is no better than the skill of the operator. What happens to the heat after it leaves the boiler or furnace is what counts. Housing, fuel, and heating equipment are as inseparable as scrambled eggs. And finally, what progress we make is going to depend largely on how we recognize those fundamentals."

What followed were 37 brief gems, written by people who really took the time to think things through. One of the writers was W. Walter Timmis, who was the Chief of the Plumbing & Heating Branch of the War Production Board He wrote:

"Absenteeism is another problem which needs more attention. Sick and injured war workers lose 6,000,000 workdays every month. Over 20 million families have members with colds at one time. Nationally, the average man loses two to four days a year from work due to colds – women twice as much.

"Faulty heating, overheating, wide variations in temperature, exposure, drafts – each contribute to the high incidence of colds. Part of the solution to the problem of absenteeism, colds and ill health, rests in the hands of the coal men, the stoker and heating appliance dealers. Better control of temperature is one of the best means of preventing the common cold."

Then, as now, what we do affects the health of the nation. And better ways to control temperature certainly followed the war.

I came to own this little booklet, Trends in Heating Development, in 1989. Dick Koral, a dear friend who is now himself a Dead Man, gave me a number of file cabinets filled with the collection of Clifford Strock, who once edited Heating & Ventilating magazine, and is no longer with us. I based several of my books on what I found in those files, and along the way, I fell even more deeply in love with the wonderful history of our industry.

Dick Koral ran the Apartment House Institute, a school for superintendents, out of New York City Technical College. Before that, Dick was Mr. Strock's Associate Editor for many years. The college was moving and they had no space for those file cabinets. They were going to throw them in the dumpster, so Dick called me.

My father and I drove my van to Manhattan and we loaded it up. Those files filled the entire van. Much of that collection is now on Please help yourself.

Trends in Heating Development was part of that collection, and Mr. Strock's handwriting is on the cover. He also gave his opinion as to the future in that booklet. He titled his section, "Developments of Great Interest and Value." He mentions Dr. Abbot's sun-heat boiler, which runs on solar and can produce power as well as heat.

"It is quite possible that many of the changes in design of heating equipment which will come about in the next three to five years may be those due to a changed fuel situation,” he wrote. “The present oil shortage is giving both anthracite and bituminous coal at least a short-term advantage. Oil is temporarily in a tough spot and it is not too improbable that if aviation sharply expands after the war, and if refining methods are somewhat altered, it may prove unprofitable to burn petroleum products as a heating fuel.

"If some of the legislative questions bothering the utilities are ever cleared up one way or another, perhaps the time will not be too far distant when such organizations will still more actively promote district heating, gas heating, and begin real work on off-peak storage of electrical energy for buildings.

"Perhaps, too, Dr. Abbot's sun-heat boiler or some similar device may be available for certain uses. Local developments, such as sawdust burners in wood-producing areas and even alcohol burning in corn-producing areas, may take place.

"Fuel conservation agitation, of which we may see more this winter than ever before, may possibly have a profound effect in bringing about further adoption of insulation, storm windows, and weather-stripping, and this in turn is bound to affect heating design.

"The great interest in radiant heating during recent years may be accentuated. Some organizations are working on variations of this with metal-foil insulation used to retrain the energy from human beings in the enclosure, supplemented by artificial radiant energy in the walls, coupled with absorption of human radiant energy by cool walls in summer.

"High temperature hot water systems have begun to appear in this country, following their wider use abroad, and this may increase. Work is also reported underway on steam heating boilers using forced circulation to reduce heat transfer surface in the boiler and thus reduce boiler size.

"Whether these or other developments take place, we can be sure of one thing: there will be developments of value and of great interest to all of us concerned with heating."

And there sure were. If I asked you to predict the future of heating beyond the current pandemic, what would you see? And would time prove you right? When people in this industry spend time thinking, good things tend to happen. So let’s keep thinking. What do you see in your crystal ball?

I hope you enjoyed this trip to the past. If you did, please share it with your friends. And please subscribe to this podcast. I have many more Dead Men Tales to share with you. I appreciate your taking the time to listen. If not for you, I’d be talking to myself. And I’ve already heard everything that I would say. Thanks.

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