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.

See more items in: Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Engineering, Building, and Architecture, Thermostats, Domestic Furnishings

Exhibition: Object Project

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2008.0011.11Accession Number: 2008.0011Catalog Number: 2008.0011.11

Object Name: thermostat

Measurements: overall: 7 in x 3 in x 3 in; 17.78 cm x 7.62 cm x 7.62 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746ad-449f-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1392748

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