top of page

History of Water Heaters | Water Heater Pros | Sacramento, Ca

History of Water Heaters



We buy antique water heaters

Only 1897 to 1922,

Call (602) 833-1533

Erwin Ruud.jpg

Life is not the same with the invention and use of hot water heaters

It is hard to imagine living without immediate access to hot water; but some people do it every day, and hot water heaters were not always a part of everyday existence. Here are some more interesting facts about the history of water heaters.


  • Before hot water heaters, people had to find natural ways to heat water, such as fire and hot springs.


  • The Romans produced hot water more than 1800 years ago, we'll talk more about that later on.


  • It was not until 1889 that Edwin Rudd invented the automatic storage water heater, which is what most of us are familiar with today.


  • In 1896, Clarence Kemp took things one step further with his solar paneled heating. This type of hot water heating utilizes solar panels for heating the water – a popular choice in sunny areas of the world.


  • In 1960's, the modern tankless hot water heater as we know it was introduced. This type of water heater heats the water inside copper or brass coils and known as a heat exchanger – no more storage tanks of heated water needed.


  • The heated circulation system was introduced in 1970's, providing pre-heated water circulated throughout your home to meet your needs on-demand.


Bet you didn't know?
  • 12 – the average lifespan in years of a tank-type storage water heater.

  • 25 – the average lifespan in years of a tankless water heater.

  • 64 – average gallons of water used by a person per day.

  • 400-600 – the average number of dollars a family spends each year to heat their water.


Knowing the history of water heaters and some other fun facts should help you have a greater appreciation of this most-handy appliance in your home. Without it, you would be stuck using natural resources to heat your water.


Before the invention of the water heater, hot water was time-consuming luxury. Anyone wanting a hot bath had to heat the water in small batches over an open fire or a stove and transfer them one bucket at a time to a bathtub.


First Instantaneous Water Heater

In 1868, a British decorative painter named Benjamin Waddy Maughan patented the first instantaneous water heater for household use.


Maughan's Geyser

Called the "gas geyser" Maughan's invention employed natural gas to heat the water as it flowed into the bathtub. The guyser didn't have a flue for venting gas vapors, so it was dangerous to use.


First Automatic Storage Water Heater

Maughan's design inspired mechanical engineer Edwin Ruud, a Norwegian immigrant to the United States, who patented his automatic storage water heater in 1889.


Ruud's Invention

Ruud's water heater was a gas-heated, cast iron appliance with a copper heat exchanger. When the bather opened a water faucet, an actuator valve turned on the heater's burners.


Ruud's Success

In 1897, Rudd opened a company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania devoted to making domestic and commercial water heaters. The Ruud Manufacturing Company became an industry leader in water heating products and is the oldest American water heater company.

Americans first starting seeing the Ruud modern water heater around 1898, popularity was slow coming as Americans were skeptical of such a devise, it wasn't too long before indoor automatic hot water heaters were a welcome site. Erwin Ruud made this all possible with his invention while working for Mr. Westinghouse in the late 1800's as an apprentice, he invented the actuator valve, this was a devise that would open and close due to water pressure in a pipe and connected to the actuator valve, this invention by Mr. Ruud made it all work, as the pressure dropped in the pipe as the faucet handle was moved to turn on hot water, the actuator valve would open allowing hot water under pressure to flow to the faucet, and now you know how it all got started, here is a news article titled "Decanter Can't Quit" talking about sales of the Ruud #25 as shown from a 1917 publication.

Bet you didn't know?

Why is the hot water valve always on the left?

Because cold water was all that was available prior to the invention of the water heater, the first plumbing in a home was a water pump at the kitchen sink and since most people are right handed it only seemed practical to place the pump on the right side of the sink that was made by hand pounding and forming a sheet of copper into a sink with a lead drain pipe leading outside, when it was time to install a hot water faucet, the only place to put it was on the left side of the sink, so now you know why hot water is always on the left and cold on the right.


Antique water heaters on display in Sacramento, Water Heater Pros office

Romans Produced Hot Water, more than 1800 Years ago!
Caldarium Baths.jpg

Hundreds of slaves working through the day and night burning wood in 50 brick ovens to ensure the water was hot 24 hours a day. Just one of these ancient ovens that helped supply 15 gallons of water a second were found in Ancient Rome through tunnels underground.

brick oven.jpg

One of the brick ovens that kept hot water pumping into the ancient baths of Caracalla, Rome (pictured) 1,800 years ago is now on display for the first time.

The steamy secret to how the Romans ran a piping hot bath: Slaves burnt tonnes of wood in 50 brick ovens that kept water in the ancient Baths of Caracalla warm 24 hours a day

  • Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy, were built under Emperor Caracalla in 216AD

  • At time, supplied 15 gallons of water a second and accommodated 5,000 people

  • Directors have opened a section of tunnels with oven heating baths for first time

In the modern world, most of us wouldn't give a second thought to the source of the hot water running through our taps. And neither did the 5,000 Romans using the Baths of Caracalla everyday more than 1,800 years ago - but if they had, the steamy secret was being kept right under their feet.  


Hundreds of slaves working through the night burnt tonnes of wood in 50 brick ovens to ensure the water was hot 24 hours a day, reports the Times. Now one of these ancient ovens that helped supply 15 gallons (70 litres) of water a second through tunnels underground is going on display for the first time. Director Marina Piranomonte told the Times: 'This is the technological heart of the baths. Everyone should see it — not just academics with torches.' 


The Terme di Caracalla was built in 216AD while Emperor Caracalla ruled, and remained in use cleaning 5,000 Romans every day until 537AD when it was closed. It was closed after the Ostrogoths destroyed the aqueducts supplying water to the baths.

Contemporary descriptions of the grand structure mention marble columns, floors, mosaics of glass and hundreds of statues. Unfortunately, the marble was eventually stripped away but the site is still one of the best preserved ancient spa complexes left.

The pools were kept at 40C (104F) by nearly two miles worth of lead pipes underground - which may have got into the water.

Oldest Boiler.jpg


Old boiler: The world's first central heating system on display as -- Ancient boilers from Pompeii, the partially-buried Roman settlement near Naples in southern Italy.

Ancient Roman boiler from Pompeii. It was used to produce hot water while resting on an iron tripod. Bathtubs, boilers and the world's first underfloor heating System.

Recreated Pompeii villa gives rare insight into Roman life a Roman villa had technological innovations like a boiler that warms bathwater Pompeii. The exhibition "Pompei: The Art of Living" at Musee Maillol in Paris has been set up as a Roman villa, built around a garden atrium, offering a composite look at the decor of a Pompeian domus. Ancient boilers found from Pompeii, the partially-buried Roman settlement near Naples in southern Italy.


Water heaters have become a ubiquitous part of the modern housing in the industrialized world. However, prior to the industrialization, water heaters were a luxury. Electric water heaters became available during the Industrial Revolution.



Who invented the first electric water heater was non other than Norwegian-American engineer Edwin Ruud in 1889.

Storage Tank Water Heaters

The storage tank heater, still the most common type of water heater still in use in the united states, heats a supply of water and stores it for later use. Newspaper advertisements in 1945 suggest that an "automatic gas or electric water heater" could help keep a constant flow of hot water to the home.


Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters, are commonly used in Europe and much of Asia, they use a series of tubes running through electric elements to heat only the amount of water needed for a particular purpose. the first electric tankless water heater was invented by Stiebel-Eltron in 1929.

by Sharon J. Rehana



In 1889, George Eastman began selling his Kodak flexible roll film for the first time; the World’s Fair opened in Paris with the completed Eiffel Tower; Daniel Stover and William Hance patented a bicycle with the back-pedal brake; and Edwin Rudd, a Norwegian mechanical engineer and inventor who immigrated to the U.S., was awarded a patent for his design of a tankless water heater.  It had a cast iron body with a copper heat exchanger, and his patent was on a gas actuator valve, which turned on the burner when a water faucet was opened.  


Things have changed since then.  Today, tankless water heaters are used throughout most of the world, and have gained significant popularity in North America.  They last longer than tanked heaters, provide hot water when and for as long as it’s needed, and will save consumers money each month because they reduce the amount of energy used.   


Dating from about 1895, this royal British water heater is gas fired. It was installed in the bathroom next to the bathtub. Shower were virtually non-existent. To Operate, you light the pilot, turn on the water, then turn on it's gas valve.

copper water heater
Be Careful

Temperature is adjusted by putting in the right amount of cold water. When shutting the water heater off you had to be very careful not to shut off the water before turning off the gas. If you did forget, the heater would quickly be ruined, probably melted down!


Shepherd's Crook

The heater works by mixing hot gases and water, which although very efficient, wasn't particularly clean. British heaters had an interesting safety devise built in that you can see on the side of it. The "shepherd's crook" actually makes an air gap in the water supply. This prevents any tainted water from the heater from possibly getting back into the water supply, (a rather modern concept). The slightly tainted hot water was to be used only for bathing. This heater burns roughly 100,000 BTU per hour.


Ruud #25
old ruud water heater
Italian gas water heater.jpg
Vintage Pearl gas water heater.jpeg
copper water heater.jpg
Steampunk water heater.jpg
Vintage gas water heater with shower.jpg
vintage Ascot water heater.jpg



bottom of page