Fire has been known to man since the dawn of time.  First came starting it, then came stopping it, then came controlling it, and finally harnessing it in a safe and efficient manner.

Fire has been known to man since the dawn of time, but for many ages it was only a thing of danger – as forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and the like – because man could not control it.

The first step in controlling fire was starting it, and the next step was stopping it.  When man learned these two tricks, he began to make good use of fire for heat and light.

But many centuries passed before there was any further progress in the art of burning fuels.  A fire was simply a heap of wood, a pile of coal, or a pot of oil.  These all burned slowly – at nature’s own pace.  If man wanted more heat than these would provide, he simply had to build a bigger fire.  It was not until fairly recent times that man learned to build a faster fire.

This matter of speed in burning was a new element of control which permitted large amounts of heat output within a small space.  This was not just a simple trick – it required a knowledge of the burning process and thoughtful design of the burning equipment.  Although burning, or combustion, is really a chemical process, controlling it for practical use is mainly a problem in fluid mechanics and heat transfer.

In addition to releasing a great quantity of heat, man had to learn how to prevent it from getting away from him unused.  To transfer the heat from the fire to the place where it was needed, furnaces or combustion chambers had to be built.  In order to make efficient use of the heat from a flame, it was necessary to design the fire and the furnace to fit the job.  But good design was not enough.  Careful supervision of the fire by someone with a knowledge of combustion was necessary to assure the most efficient use of the fuel at all times.

The lessons learned through the years still apply.

  • North American Combustion Handbook
  • Richard J. Reed
  • A Basic Reference on the Art and Science of Industrial Heating with Gaseous and Liquid Fuels
  • Volume 1:  Combustion, Fuels, Stoichiometry, Heat Transfer, Fluid Flow
  • Third Edition