Water Heater History: The Untold Story of Hot Showers

Last Updated On June 11, 2024

Updated on August 31, 2021



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water heater history (who invented the water heater)

Most Americans take advantage of hot water that comes directly into the home thanks to the convenience of a residential water heater in the home. 

However, convenient hot water is a relatively new luxury. It can be valuable to learn about the history of water heaters to know more about current water heating options and the future of heating technology.

In this PlumbingNav guide, we will cover:

  • Who invented the water heater
  • Before the modern water heater
  • Storage water heater invention
  • Introduction of the tankless water heater
  • How solar water heaters provide a water heating solution for the future

What's In This Guide?

      Who Created The First Modern Water Heater?

      Norwegian mechanical engineer and American immigrant Edwin Rudd invented the modern residential water heater in 1899 while working in Philadelphia. He continued to improve on it over and over again, accumulating new patents on his product. The Rudd name may sound familiar, as Edwin Rudd took his water heater and started the Rudd Corporation in 1897, a respected name in water heating products and technology to this day.

      Before The Hot Water Heater

      The creation of the water heater developed from a need for heating water in the home for showers and laundry. 

      Before the hot water heater, Romans used natural hot springs to create large, public baths. However, not every location has hot water springs to utilize. 

      People warmed up water in pots over the fire or stove. Unfortunately, this took up too much time to work as a practical solution. 

      Benjamin Waddy Maughan, a painter by trade, used a boiler to heat water in pipes, but the method proved unsafe. He sometimes gets credit as the inventor of the water heater for his noble attempts. 

      In 1920, only 1% of Americans had indoor plumbing, but that changed drastically over the next two decades with the boost of more water heater companies creating accessible products. 

      The Invention Of The Storage Water Heater

      The tank water heater refers to the conventional water heaters we see in most homes that use a tank to store hot water until someone needs it. 

      Who Invented the Natural Gas Water Heater?

      The first water heater developed by Rudd in 1989 was a natural gas water heater that used a storage tank. 

      Rudd continued to improve his invention, especially in regard to safety, adding 13 additional patents to his invention by 1940. The additional safety features, such as proper venting and the creation of residential plumbing codes, helped increase the number of water heaters in the home. 

      Making up 48% of the water heaters in homes today, gas still slightly tops other sources of energy (electricity and solar).

      Who Invented the Electric Water Heater?

      State Water Heaters, originally a stove company, developed the electric water heater in 1948. 

      During WWII, water heater companies ceased operations to contribute to the war effort. When the war ended, water heater manufacturers got back to work. This led to State Water Heaters creating a water heater that runs using electric power to stand out from the crowd.

      More and more people saw the benefits of electricity over natural gas, including higher efficiency and increased safety. 

      Who Invented Heat Pump Water Heaters (HPWHs)?

      Heat pump water heaters (HPWHs), or hybrid water heaters, are the newest electric storage tank water heaters on the market. 

      Hybrid water heaters use a heat pump to transfer natural heat using electricity instead of creating direct heat. It takes much less energy to transfer warmth than to create it. 

      In the case of geothermal HPHWs, the most common type, it takes heat already coming from the ground to heat the water in a tank. It also comes with backup electric heating elements to heat water if the geothermal heat can’t support the demand. 

      The first device was invented by Robert C. Webber in 1948, but it didn’t become a popular heating and cooling option for homes until the 1970s.

      Incorporating it into water heater technology only started recently, and HPWHs only make up 1% of water heater sales at the moment. However, government-supported initiatives now encourage more homeowners to make the switch. 

      It could save 15.6 billion kWh in energy usage throughout the country if we can increase sales so that HPWHs make up 15% of water heaters in homes. 

      Tankless Water Heaters Improve Residential Hot Water

      Instantaneous water heaters warm water on demand instead of keeping it warm in a tank. You have the choice to choose between a gas tankless water heater or an electric tankless water heater.

      Since the tankless water heater doesn’t need to regularly heat the water in the tank, it uses significantly less energy, saving homeowners money in utility costs. It also comes in a much more compact size, opening up more space in the home. 

      When Were Tankless Water Heaters First Used?

      Tankless water heaters first entered the market in 1970, but early models from the late 1920s exist, even though they didn’t work nearly as well as these new models. 

      In 1990, recirculation systems entered the market, making tankless water heaters even more efficient than before by using your hot water usage patterns to automatically adjust to your needs.

      The Solar Water Heater Takes Water Heating to New Heights

      Solar water heating uses energy from the sun using a solar collector to power your water heater, meaning you pay virtually nothing to power the device (except for the installation). 

      As the water heating solution of the future, we can expect some improvements in the upcoming years. Installation costs still fall on the high end of the spectrum. However, even with the minor challenges, solar power water heaters currently make a great option for people who want to live an environmentally friendly and self-sufficient lifestyle. 

      While only less than 1% of homes use a solar energy heating system, we should embrace the change. They will eventually become the norm as we continue to strive for efficient heating methods. 

      Final Thoughts On Water Heater History 

      Water heaters only started appearing in homes about 100 years ago thanks to the ingenuity of numerous business-minded engineers who constantly looked for ways to outdo the competition. 

      Today, we enjoy the benefits of their innovation, and water heaters continue to increase in efficiency and compactness. 

      Unfortunately, there’s still no invention to stop teenagers from fighting about who gets to use the shower first, but, with the right size water heater, you can rest assured everyone will have heated water.

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      About Plumbing Navigator

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      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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