Williams Oil-O-Matic Thermostat

The Williams Oil-O-Matic heating company of Bloomington, Illinois manufactured this thermostat during the 1930s. Walter W. Williams patented his oil burner control mechanism on March 11, 1925. The Oil-O-Matic was an attempt to make oil heating automatic “without work or worry.” The home owner could set a temperature with the thermostat and the Oil-O-Matic would parcel out the right amount of oil, atomize the oil for combustion, keep the flame alive with a fan, and increase the heat in the combustion chamber, heating the whole house. Advertisements for the Oil-O-Matic touted the way it could save its owner money—fuel costs, upkeep costs, cleaning bills, doctors’ bills, and time due to the labor of refilling a coal furnace. This dark brown plastic thermostat was used in conjunction with the Oil-O-Matic, it contains a thermometer and could be set between 55 and 85 degrees.
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.
Object Name
overall: 5 in x 2 in x 1 3/4 in; 12.7 cm x 5.08 cm x 4.445 cm
overall: 7 in x 3 in x 3 in; 17.78 cm x 7.62 cm x 7.62 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Domestic Furnishings
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Object Project
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.