A heat gun is an indispensable tool in numerous home improvement projects, including paint removal, drying paint, shrink wrapping, and softening various materials. Renowned manufacturers like Germany’s Steinel and other brands have perfected the production of heat guns, but have you ever wondered about its origins? The history of the heat gun may not be immediately apparent, but a little research unveils a fascinating timeline.
The Early Heat Gun
The heat gun’s inception can be traced back to the early 1900s, potentially even earlier when considering non-electric versions. The modern electric heat gun evolved from early electrical heaters. The inventor of the contemporary heat gun drew inspiration from these devices when filing a patent for his design. Early electric heaters often featured a fan, heating element, and insulating disc, typically made of asbestos. By the 1930s, this heating technology was applied to various heaters and electric ovens in Germany, eventually giving rise to the first proper heat gun.
The First Patented Heat Gun
C.H. Kenney developed the earliest proper heat gun in 1930, with the patent awarded in 1934. Kenney’s invention was designed primarily for paint removal, using the heat gun to soften and blister-dried paint, allowing for easy scraping. A more robust version appeared in 1936, resembling an electric screwdriver and designed by Milton H. Spielman, who worked with electric motors and vacuum cleaners. Spielman’s heat gun featured a larger heating coil and was intended for thawing frozen oil and water in pipes and cars. Asbestos was a common component in these early designs.
Innovations and the Modern Heat Gun
Over time, the heat gun underwent various innovations, evolving from a hot air gun used for vulcanizing tires to the recognizable gun-shaped tool used for paint removal today. One of the most significant changes came with Fred E. Schumacher’s patented heat gun design, which addressed issues with heating element placement and burnout, resulting in greater efficiency and reduced maintenance costs. Schumacher’s design involved an insulating cover for the heating element and positioned the air to blow over the element as it exited the gun. This marked the arrival of the modern heat gun.
Heat Guns in Physiotherapy
The history of heat guns in physiotherapy is closely linked to their use with thermoplastics and splinting. Throughout history, splints were made from a variety of materials, including wood, bamboo, cane, steel, aluminum, leather, and plaster of Paris. The introduction of plastics for splinting began in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1941, Marble described a new plastic material called Thermex, which could be heated, formed, and reheated. However, these early plastics required high temperatures to soften, posing challenges for therapists in molding the material without causing injury to the patient.
In the mid to late 1960s, low-temperature thermoplastic materials were introduced but initially struggled with slow hardening and vulnerability to collapsing under increased body warmth. Subsequent advancements lowered the temperature range needed for malleability while increasing rigidity. While ovens and electric frying pans were initially used for heating thermoplastics, the heat gun eventually became the preferred tool for applying localized, short-term heat. Notably, these advancements in splinting technology were not driven by dedicated research but rather by the adoption of innovations from military and aerospace technologies.
This fascinating history of the heat gun showcases the ingenuity of inventors and the evolution of heating technologies, leading to the versatile and powerful tool we know today.