Automatic warm air heating, in the form of a “winter air conditioner,” was first marketed in Canada in the mid to late 1930s. When it arrived, it was as a breath of fresh air to a people ready to move beyond subsistence living, huddled around the parlour stove or warm air register.

The winter air conditioner represented a convergence of five advanced technologies of the period: First, a high pressure oil atomizing, gun-styled oil burner, new for the times; second, an automatic control system consisting of combustion, safety, and temperature limit controllers; third, a high volume squirrel cage blower, guaranteeing warm air circulation throughout the home; fourth, air filters; and fifth, a warm air humidifier.

More than just a central warm air furnace, the winter air conditioner was a total “system.” The system, with many component parts, would generate heat automatically and distribute it throughout the home, changing the air several times each hour. The system would include new high tech streamlined duct work, for distributing warm air, register faces for comfortable air delivery to every room, as well as a room thermostat that would Read More
Automatic warm air heating, in the form of a “winter air conditioner,” was first marketed in Canada in the mid to late 1930s. When it arrived, it was as a breath of fresh air to a people ready to move beyond subsistence living, huddled around the parlour stove or warm air register.

The winter air conditioner represented a convergence of five advanced technologies of the period: First, a high pressure oil atomizing, gun-styled oil burner, new for the times; second, an automatic control system consisting of combustion, safety, and temperature limit controllers; third, a high volume squirrel cage blower, guaranteeing warm air circulation throughout the home; fourth, air filters; and fifth, a warm air humidifier.

More than just a central warm air furnace, the winter air conditioner was a total “system.” The system, with many component parts, would generate heat automatically and distribute it throughout the home, changing the air several times each hour. The system would include new high tech streamlined duct work, for distributing warm air, register faces for comfortable air delivery to every room, as well as a room thermostat that would maintain temperature within a range of plus or minus 2°F.

The system represented significant advancements in applied science and engineering design, materials development, manufacturing processes, and fabrication methods.

Enclosed in a modern streamlined cabinet, the winter air conditioner could be located in a corner of the basement, freeing space for other uses like work benches and laundry rooms, and a place for leisure and entertainment called the “recreation room.” Beyond its potential for new levels of performance and comfort, the winter air conditioner would be shamelessly promoted as a principal portal to new lifestyle living for Canadians.
* Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #4, HD1001M).
* Howard Air Conditioning Design for Canadian Conditions: Sales Bulletin 38-1, 1938

© 2011, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada. All Rights Reserved.

A complete Winter 'air conditioner' for winter and summer

Touted as a complete Winter 'air conditioner' for winter and summer, this packaged furnace included air filters, humidity and temperature controls, fan and gun-style oil burner and ran on coal, oil or gas. (Howard Furnace and Foundries, Toronto, Ontario, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada Collections.

G. Leslie Oliver
Ron Shuker, Nigel Heseltine
c. 1930s
Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
Accession #2003.081.
© 2010, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada. All Rights Reserved.


“Oil-o-Miser” oil burner

Streamlined design, quiet, efficient and trouble free were some of the words used to describe the “Oil-o-Miser” oil burner offered by Howard Furnace and Foundries for its furnace.

G. Leslie Oliver
Ron Shuker, Nigel Heseltine
c. 1930s
© 2011, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada. All Rights Reserved.


The underfeed coal stoking attachment could be fed from a hopper, as pictured

The underfeed coal stoking attachment could be fed from a hopper, as pictured, or automatically using a bin feeder.

G. Leslie Oliver,
Ron Shuker, Nigel Heseltine
c. 1930s
© 2011, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada. All Rights Reserved.


This high pressure blower assembly with squirrel-cage fan wheel was new for the late 1930s

This high pressure blower assembly with squirrel-cage fan wheel was new for the late 1930s. Its resilient-mounted electric fan motor, on the right side, with an adjustable, variable speed, motor pulley and “V” belt drive reduced vibration, making it more acceptable to a generation that was unaccustomed to whirring motors, belts, and pulleys.

Brochure, Howard Furnace and Foundries Ltd., T.H. Oliver Collection [detail]
G. Leslie Oliver, Ron Shuker, Nigel Heseltine
c. 1940
© 2011, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Left, filter, centre, squirrel-cage fan wheel, and, right, an early humidifier

Left, filtering, to remove dust from the air was a new idea in the 1930s. Centre, the squirrel-cage fan wheel would produce sufficient air pressure to move large volumes of warm air through horizontal air ducts, making the winter air conditioner possible. Right, early humidifiers operated much the same as a pot of water boiling on the parlor stove. What was new here was a crude automatic water supply system.

Brochure, Howard Furnace and Foundries Ltd., T.H. Oliver Collection [detail]
G. Leslie Oliver, Ron Shuker, Nigel Heseltine
c. 1940
© 2011, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

a.) How can this warm air furnace operate on not just oil, but coal and gas (what modifications are needed)?
b.) What does this system’s flexibility offer for the homeowner, particularly during blackouts?
c.) What similarities does this 1930s package system share with. today’s packaged furnaces in terms of components, controls, size of equipment?

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