Circulating clean air and warm comfort


By Susanna McLeod

Special to Ontario Construction News

Fresh air in, foul air out. According to Henry Ruttan, a building needs clean, healthy air and comfortable heating. The year “1848, when Mr. Ruttan first began his experiments, was a date when ideas relating to warming and ventilation may have been, as they doubtless were, in a crude state,” said John H. Mills in “Heat” (1890).

Homes and buildings were often heated by inefficient fireplaces and woodstoves. As wood burned and flames flared, the room’s air became stagnant and stifling. Pulling at collars, feeling exhausted, suffocated, and unwell, occupants rushed outside for clean air. Testing theories and solutions, the Cobourg, Ontario sheriff developed a new process for ventilation.

Ruttan was on to something. An ocean away in England, brilliant nurse Florence Nightingale was also interested in the fresh air and ventilation so critical to good health and disease prevention. “The first essential to a patient,” she wrote in Notes on Nursing, is “to keep the air he breathes as pure as the external air, without chilling him.” Ruttan was on the right track.

Building heating and ventilation machines, the engineer received seven patents for his appliances. Issued at Montreal in August 1846, Patent No. 98 was for “Hot Air Generators.” The inventor next devised a cooking stove, hot air and vapour generator, and a furnace. Two years later in July 1848, he received Patent No. 130 for “The Canadian Ventilator.”

“Firstly, for filling the whole building with, and keeping it full of pure air, and causing a constant circulation of the whole body downward, without local currents,” writes Ruttan in “The Canadian Ventilator” patent description. Ventilating and warming (in winter) all rooms, the machine functioned “without a single pipe, either within or without the walls; the whole being accomplished by an aperture at the top and bottom of each room.” The openings could be opened and closed as required. Cold air was brought in under the iron firebox and warmed, while contaminated air was removed.

Fresh air machines captured the market’s attention, but Ruttan faced a snag. Some women were fussy about their walls, the inventor stated. “…you won’t catch me spoiling the appearance of my rooms for this ‘sake of ventilation,’”. The apertures were undesirable even if they were covered with ornamental grates. “The best of the joke is that the same parties who object to flues or fire places, will stick the walls full of windows.” (He refers to windows that could not be opened.)

Purchasing one of Ruttan’s patents, Ohio businessman Isaac D. Smead combined the plans with patents of B.R. Hawley of Illinois. He called the revised arrangement the Ruttan System. The air conditioning equipment for homes and large buildings were cost-effective, as well.

For the winter of 1884-85, cost analyses for schools in Toledo, Ohio proved the impressive savings from using the Canadian’s system. With the Smead-Ruttan equipment, the cost to heat and ventilate one school room was $22.79; using steam-heating cost $52.68; and using a hot-air furnace was expensive at $86.25.

Older buildings were difficult to retrofit and Ruttan preferred new construction. Working from the foundation up, installation cost very little, says Ruttan, and equipment operation was “at about half the expense for fuel that you will be at in any house built on the old plan.”

Home owners, school boards, and businessmen wrote letters of commendation to Ruttan for his comfortable and effective approach to healthy living. More applications for the inventor’s work emerged.

Railways in Canada and the United used an adapted air conditioning system of Ruttan’s to fit on train coaches. Installing a ventilating cap on the roof of the train car, “a continuous stream of air, purified in summer by passing over a large shallow tank of water, is furnished to the [passengers] of the car,” Ruttan says.

“The same quantity of air is also supplied in winter, but warmed by a means of a simple but most efficient ventilating stove.” Any tobacco smoke or germs in the air were carried out with the downdraft, and outside dust did not enter the car, instead it was captured in the water tank.

Engineering came much later to Henry Ruttan (1792-1871). Born in Adolphustown, Ontario, he left school at age 14 to work as store assistant. At age 20, the young man joined the militia during the War of 1812. On active service, he was wounded at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, recovering and later rising to the rank of Colonel.

Twice elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, 1820-1824 then 1836-1841, the politician also served as Speaker of the House for a term. The energetic man was appointed Sheriff in 1827 for the Newcastle District, holding the post for 30 years. In his 50s, the science bug bit, and Henry Ruttan became a leading proponent of fresh air comfort.     END 800 words

© 2020 Susanna McLeod.  Susanna McLeod is a Kingston-based columnist who specializes in Canadian History

Editor Sources:

Ruttan, Henry, Ruttan’s Ventilation and Warming; or How to Make a Home Healthy, Peterborough, 1870: 9  Queen’s University/Jordan Special Collections Library

Mills, John H., Heat: The Science and Philosophy of its Production and Applications to the Warming and Ventilation of Buildings, Vol. 2, American Printing and Engraving, Boston 1890: 375-382.

Nightingale, Florence; Notes on Nursing, D. Appleton and Company, New York 1860/University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Patents of Canada from 1824-1849, Lovell and Gibson, Toronto 1850: 98, 130, 210, 222, 225, 240.,+1848+ruttan&source=bl&ots=eCs6x7gdud&sig=ACfU3U2hb031oyQAYyriqSJv25sZuTNlsg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi1l4qyirvnAhXHmOAKHaglDTYQ6AEwAXoECAQQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22the%20canadian%20ventilator%22%20patent%2C%201848%20ruttan&f=false

Ruttan, Henry; Ventilation and Warming of Buildings: Illustrated by 54 Plates, G.P. Putnam, New York 1862,+ventilation+and+warming+of+buildings+with+54+plates&source=bl&ots=N9Q8A74ceE&sig=ACfU3U0sSdL7ebe79VGBY27MGpW69FCKDw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwieyIPIrL3nAhVUWs0KHbtCCSAQ6AEwEnoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=henry%20ruttan%2C%20ventilation%20and%20warming%20of%20buildings%20with%2054%20plates&f=false


“Henry Ruttan,” Cobourg History

A choice of suggested Images:

“Plate LII: Ruttan Air Warmers,” Henry Ruttan, Ventilation and Warming of Buildings: Illustrated by 54 Plates, G.P. Putnam, New York 1862: p. 207

“Plate XLII: Foul Air Exhausting End,” Henry Ruttan, Ventilation and Warming of Buildings: Illustrated by 54 Plates, G.P. Putnam, New York 1862: p. 187


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