10 Ways People In The 1800s Kept Warm In The Depths Of Winter

In the 21st century, surviving the winter is as often simple as flipping a switch. After all, houses these days come fully equipped with central heating systems, hot water, and electricity. But in the 1800s, it was a different story. Staying warm was a constant struggle. Families had to resort to some pretty unusual — though also inventive — ways to fight back against the deadly cold.

1. Gigantic fur muffs

One way folks back in the 19th century kept warm was by paying lots of attention to their hands. For some, a fur muff was just the thing to stop their hands from turning into blocks of ice. The muff was a kind of cylinder into which people placed their hands. Of course, the drawback was that once people had their muffs on, there wasn’t a great deal they could actually do with their hands. Twiddling their thumbs would have been about the limit. But fur wasn't the only option...

Heavy metal

Then there was the high-tech version of the hand warmer. This was basically a container made of ceramic or metal – silver if you were wealthy enough – with some slow-burning charcoal inside. Alternatively, they might have been filled with boiling water. It’s difficult to say which was more dangerous: carrying around a container filled with burning charcoal or one filled with boiling water.

2. Bedtime burn hazard

Being cold during the day is bad enough, but even worse is freezing at night in bed. In the daytime, at least, people in the 1800s could’ve tried to keep warm by, say, chopping some wood or jumping up and down. But assuming that they’d wanted to sleep at night, physical activity is pretty much ruled out. So the obvious answer was to devise a way of warming up the beds.

Hot coals

One easy way to do that was to use hot water bottles. In the 19th century, though, these were usually made from ceramic and were a kind of larger version of the hand warmers we saw before. Yet another device was designed to be filled with stones that had been heated up in the fireplace. In fact, people could have even taken hot coals from the fire and used them in one of the containers. But don’t try this at home today: we doubt having smoldering coals in the bed would satisfy modern health and safety standards.