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Hot Water: 1905

Hot Water: 1905

Detroit circa 1905. "Detroit City Gas Company office, heater." Note the photographer or his assistant holding the drape. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Faucet Openandcloseometer

I bought a tankless water heater for my house in 2005. The store clerk didn't tell me there was an accessory that stands here opening and closing the faucet. I hope they have one left in stock, because I need that handy thing.

Hot Water Heater

My father referred to the device as a "hot water heater," which drove my mother - the English teacher - crazy. Through the years I've found this term to be quite common.

Funny they had to work so hard to sell it

It really seems weird to us now, but 24-hour running hot water wasn't a given until the '50s. Nowadays, almost nobody considers the cost.

And yes, what is old is new again. Tankless water heaters disappeared from the US, then came back. I installed one in my house in 2002, which I might think would qualify me as an early adopter, but I already knew about this era. Engineers didn't trust thermostats back in the day. A proportional flow valve was thought to be more reliable, as well as safer.

This is great because

we not only get a demonstration on how a water heater works, we also get a demonstration on how a Photo shoot works!

Humphrey Valves

I suspect that this "tankless" hot water heater was the beginning of the Humphrey Valve company.

"Opening the faucet turns on the gas that heats the water"

I believe that this was done with a "pilot valve" (often called a Humphrey valve). When the faucet is opened the change of pressure is sensed and opens the gas valve.

Humphrey may have failed at the water heaters, but is still doing a booming business.

Our old tank

The house I grew up in was built in 1863 and up until 1968 we didn't have "automatic" hot water -- we had to light the tank and wait until the water heated. There was no thermostat, you had to be aware how hot the tank got so it didn't split.


I went to college in Kalamazoo, where this Humphrey product was made. While I was there, the city was still the home of Checker Motors, the roomiest taxi cabs anywhere. Both now part of history.

They Knew Their Stuff

Considering that it was 1905, they knew how to deliver the message.


But that rubber hose connecting the gas meter to the heater wouldn't pass code today.

Just Like Electric Cars

Don't they have "new" water heaters out now that heat the water as you need it? It's just like the electric car. A great idea 100 years ago that went away for some reason. Now it's back.

That could have been me

... holding the drape.

I worked as an architectural photographer/ assistant for years and shooting windows from street side was one of my least favorite things. Not so much for holding up drapes in the street to cut down reflections (we had polarizing filters for that), but for the fact that people would just not stop walking in front of the camera. Really. I would physically block their way and be waving my arms and saying "Stop! Walk over this way, please!" and they would walk straight in front of the 4x5 camera and tripod. Idiots.


The camera you see reflected in the window is not part of the water heater. It is there so we don't have to keep this display in the window for 106 years. Instead, you can view it at - whatever that is.

Same old meter

It doesn't look like gas meter technology has changed much in the last 106 years.

State of the art

Hard to believe how far we've come since my Grandfather entered the world in 1905.

Seeing the hooded camera reflected in the window between the Humphrey and the automatic valve is a nice touch too.

Non sequitur

With "this machine" taking the place of "some person" to turn on and off the faucet, I'm surprised unemployment wasn't rampant at the turn of the century!

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