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Modest water heater that changed family life is Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's Object of the Month for April

The Parkinson Stove Company of Birmingham made the Pearl gas water heater in the 1920s

The Birmingham-made Pearl Gas Water Heater at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

A modest domestic appliance that helped revolutionise family life in the industrial world is Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's latest object of the month.

An unfamiliar sight to many today, the Pearl gas water heater is on display in the Inner City (Gallery 13).

The heater becomes the fourth of a series of objects of the month the museum is unveiling through the Birmingham Post to highlight the finest civic collection in England.

Despite its modest appearance, the Pearl heater is responsible for changing lives in the early 20th century.

“Today we can turn on a tap in the kitchen or bathroom and get hot water at any time. But until water heaters were invented, people had to heat water on a fire or stove. This was time consuming and hard work,” said Birmingham Museums Trust spokesperson Abi Rogansky.

“The invention of the modern water heater at the end of the 19th century marked a breakthrough in the development of our modern age, and today the water heater is still considered one of the hardest working appliances in our homes.”

The Parkinson Stove Company of Birmingham made the Pearl gas water heater in the 1920s. This portable copper gas water heater is typical of those manufactured before the Second World War.

Its design consisted of a gas burner and water pipe bent into a coil, which acted as a heat exchanger.

“When the water tap was opened, the gas burner would ignite, heating the water as it flowed through the coil,” said Ms Rogansky.

“The problem with these water heaters was the absence of a water temperature control system. This and other design features made the early water heater quite dangerous to use.

“However, washing up and having a hot bath became much easier.”

Parkinson Stove Company of Birmingham was an early British supplier of domestic appliances based on new progressive technologies.

Among the company products were stoves, cookers and lamps. The gas heaters were manufactured from the 1920s but they may still be recalled by the older generation today.

“After a long series of mergers, Parkinson Stove finally became a part of the modern Electrolux company,” added Ms Rogansky.

“So if today you see a modern Electrolux product, remember Parkinson Stove!”

Previous objects of the month at the museum have been The Smethwick Engine, The Sultanganj Buddha sculpture and a unique velvet hat which, according to rumour, belonged to the last Muslim ruler of Delhi.

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