Iron Fireman T-214 Thermostat

Description
The Iron Fireman Manufacturing Company of Portland, Oregon produced this thermostat in the late 1930s. Iron Fireman began their company by producing coal furnaces that used an automatic coal-feeding system. The thermostat could be set to a desired temperature and time, which would fire up the furnace and be automatically fed from a coal bin through a screw feed “ring drive” which delivered the coal to the bottom of the furnace. Delivering the coal below the furnace instead of dumping it on top generated more heat and used the coal more efficiently. This system allowed for coal to be used as an automatic fuel similar to gas or oil, keeping coal production economically viable in a time when it was losing market share to gas.
The ubiquity of thermostats in 21st century homes shrouds the decades of innovation, industrial design, and engineering that went into making them an everyday object in almost every home. In the early 20th century, a majority of American households still heated their homes with manually operated furnaces that required a trip down to the basement and stoking the coal fired furnace. Albert Butz’s “damper-flapper” system was patented in 1886 and allowed home owner to set the thermostat to a certain temperature which would open a damper to the furnace, increasing the fire and heating the house. Progressive innovations allowed for the thermostats to use gas lines, incorporate electricity, turn on at a set time, include heating and cooling in one mechanism, and even connect to the internet.
Measurements
overall: 4 3/4 in x 2 1/4 in x 1 1/2 in; 12.065 cm x 5.715 cm x 3.81 cm
ID Number
2008.0011.02
accession number
2008.0011
catalog number
2008.0011.02
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Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Thermostats
Domestic Furnishings
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Exhibition
Object Project
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History

Comments

Growing up in NE PA, we had a very large home with a giant coal boiler in the basement. Being the youngest, it was generally my task to fill the (at least then?) enormous green hopper with the iron fireman logo. In the late 60s, my father converted to a gas boiler. it took two fellows 3 days to knock the boiler apart and haul it away.........of course, it was coated with layers of asbestos.......the thermostat was exactly like the one pictured.....
Excerpt from my Memoir: The two-story brick apartment house with four long and narrow apartments (two on each floor) was twenty-five years old. The building had 21 rooms, of normal size in that era, and 4 tiny bathrooms. It had a full basement and attic and, it remained cozy warm in the winter from the coal heat. The average amount of stoker coal burned each winter: 11 to 12 tons. The total depended upon the severity of the weather. In 1953, my dad had to bring the huge lumps of coal inside, one wheelbarrow load at a time; sometimes, he’d have to break up the larger pieces with a sledge hammer to get them into the furnace. He’d dump the loads of coal in the coal room—maximum capacity: 9 tons. A full wheel barrow, loaded with coal, weighed about 200 pounds. By the time I was 12 years old I could do it myself so long as my load would weigh only one-hundred pounds. After two winters of man-handling large pieces of coal, my dad had installed a device to load the furnace automatically: it was called a ‘stoker.’ Stoker coal is golf ball size individual pieces. It’s easy to work with and the stoker, which held 225 pounds of coal, would load the furnace via an electrically operated auger that took coal from the bottom of the hopper and pushed it into and upward to the bottom of the furnace when it needed it (clinkers, coal waste after burning, still had to be removed from inside the furnace twice daily by hand). No more ‘firing’ the furnace in the middle of the night; it worked beautifully and it was quiet. While the coal-feeding auger turned smoothly and quietly and pushed a steady supply of coal into the furnace, I’d stand beside the large green hopper, with the door on top opened wide, and watch the level of coal as it fell in a conical shape lower inside the hopper; it was basic mechanics but the equipment was well-build and it gave us years of trouble-free reliable service; the name was ‘Iron Fireman.’ We lived on the lower floor in the apartment building on the south side. There were four two-bedroom apartments in total under one roof. My parent’s rented the other three apartments—on a month-to-month basis (rents were $45 per month) with written rental agreements. The income from the three apartments paid the house payments and nearly all of the utility needs.
I have an Iron Fireman Furnace in my basement. It is one of the pot belly natural gas furnaces. Once a month I go into the basement and drip oil into the oilers for the blower. NICOR comes once a year to clean it and change the thermocouple. Every year they tell me how inefficient it is. It works, Its quiet, It is reliable. Please don't slam the door on your way out.
We had a home in Salem, Oregon, built in 1922, that had an Iron Fireman coal furnace. The system had not been used in years when I bought the home in 1983. The firebox was cast iron, cast in about seven pieces, bolted together, and the joints covered with asbestos. Galvanized sheet metal surrounded the firebox. It was a forced air system, no boiler. Sorry, no photos. Thermostat was similar to the one pictured, but only one adjustment.

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