Henderson Foot Warmer c. 1912-1939

In the days before our homes were made comfortable by central heating, people found other ways to stay warm and toasty in their beds. Besides piling on thick layers of blankets and quilts, an assortment of devices was used to try to keep the chill off at night.

Some were as simple as taking a brick, warming up near the fireplace or on the cookstove, wrapping it in towels, and then placing it in the bed to allow the heat to radiate from it during the night. Another variation of this was to use a slab of soapstone in place of the brick. The soapstone’s ability to retain heat and dissipate slowly, along with it being resistant to cracking, made it preferable to using bricks.

Other types of bed warmers were made from brass or copper. These were in the shape of a pan with a lid attached to a long handle. The pan was filled with hot embers from a fireplace and then it was passed in between the sheets to warm them up before one got into bed. The disadvantage of this type is that it was used only to warm the bedding, and not kept under the covers all night.

Around 1912 the Dorchester Pottery Works in Dorchester, Massachusetts began producing the Henderson foot warmer, named after the original owner of the company. These earthenware warmers were sometimes called “piggy” or “china pigs” because of their shape. They were meant to replace rubber hot-water bottles which had a tendency to leak or burst soaking one’s bed and ruining a night’s sleep.

According to an advertisement from 1917, when filled with hot water the Henderson Foot Warmer would retain heat for twenty hours, providing comfort and warmth. The ad further states that the design wouldn’t roll over and leak and was perfect for baby beds, hospitals, and people with poor circulation. It sold for $2.00 and was guaranteed to last a lifetime. While this “piggy” has survived the test of time the same cannot be said for the continued manufacture of the foot warmers, as the Dorchester Pottery Works ceased production of them in 1939.

The McPherson Museum and Arts Foundation has an assortment of over 30,000 artifacts in collections. The MMAF would like to share some of these so we will be posting some of the more eclectic examples for your enjoyment. We hope to see you in the future. Until then, stay safe and well.