Foot Warmers

Before the mid-1800’s, American homes and public spaces were often poorly heated. One device that helped early Americans keep warm was the foot warmer. Foot warmers are a box with holes poked in the sides and a tray inside for hot coals.

In the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, women and children carried foot warmers to meetings or to church.¬†Women’s long skirts would hang over the foot warmer, holding in the heat.

Although improvements in heating occurred in the 1820’s, foot warmers continued to be used in sleighs and carriages. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, heated concrete blocks were used as foot warmers in automobiles.

Foot warmers were made of wood, tin, brass, or a combination of these materials. The holes punched into wood and tin foot warmers often formed a pattern or design.

birdhartThis example from the METC collection is likely from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, made of wood and tin. It has a sliding front panel that reveals a metal tray for the hot coals. Ventilation holes in the sides form decorative patterns, three of which depict a bird with a heart carved in its center. Popular in early America as wedding gifts, foot warmers were commonly decorated with hearts.¬†The presence of both birds and hearts on this foot warmer is reminiscent of the use of hearts, birds, and flowers by German immigrant artists in Pennsylvania who worked in the Fraktur style. Yet, Hearts also appear in combination with the Federal Eagle in early US folk art.

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