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History of the Chimney Pot

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Many people think of chimney pots as being solely British. In reality, chimney pots have a long and colorful history in countries throughout the world, including England, India, Australia and America.

The Early Years
Chimney pots have been documented as early as the 13th Century, although the United States, like much of Europe, largely discovered chimney pots in the mid 1800s. Because of their ability to increase draft up a chimney, they were invaluable in small and large houses alike, as well as in other buildings where fireplaces served as the primary source of heat. Since coal was the fuel of choice, it was of the utmost importance that noxious fumes and and soot be vented up the chimney and out of the house.

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It is likely that the first chimney pots came over from England, but they soon became a true American tradition and were made by artisans and factories across America. “Working man” cities like Louisville, Philadelphia and Cincinnati saw mass production of small houses and apartments and in many of these places, chimney pots dotted the skyline. If you look up in these and many other cities today, you’ll still see a great many chimney pots adorning the rooftops.

As a functional addition to a house, the chimney pot was enjoying great popularity, and soon it became an important design element, as well. According to Old House Journal editor Gordon Bock (as written in a wonderful article in the January 2004 issue), chimney pots were lauded as a critical design element by one of America’s leading 19th century designers and writers, Andrew Jackson Downing.

“Downing’s affection for [chimney pots] was a natural outgrowth of his passion for Gothic Revival architecture– the style he saw as ideally suited to a modest, cozy house,” said Bock, “— and in pots he found the fitting capstone to their picturesque quality.”

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The Chimney Pot Becomes Obsolete
In the 1920s, oil burners overtook coal as the nation’s leading heating method. When this happened, many chimney pots became obsolete as a functional tool. As the mortar surrounding old chimney pots eventually cracked, many pots were discarded rather than be maintained. The end of the chimney pot seemed at hand

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Chimney Pots, Revived
Today, chimney pots are enjoying a tremendous resurgence in popularity. Because chimney pots are relatively inexpensive, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and are easy to install, their use is once again on the rise as an exterior architectural element. Homeowners, as well as design and building professionals. are once again turning to chimney pots as a way to add beauty and character to fine homes.Certainly, chimney pots remain an excellent way to improve the draft up a tricky chimney. But just as important, they add intrinsic value to a house by preserving its historic integrity, giving it a sense of style, or just adding a sense of individuality to that place we call home.


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