Have you ever pumped up an air mattress or a basketball with a foot pump? If not you can imagine the work that goes into that. Now can you imagine a time when you had to pump your fire either in your home or business. While we might not be able to imagine it today many people used an object called the bellows in their everyday life to fan their fires.
According to Merriam-Webster a bellows is “an instrument or machine that by alternate expansion and contraction draws in air through a valve or orifice and expels it through a tube.” By moving the handles up the bellows takes in air and by closing the handles the bellows is blowing air out. Bellows were most commonly used to fan the flames of a fire and would have been near almost every fireplace, but they had other uses as well.
The first time the bellows, or a device similar to it, were used was in 4000 BC with the Egyptians and Sumerians. They used the bellows in their foundry’s, where they cast iron from recovered meteorites into spearheads and ornaments. Hieroglyphics also give us a glimpse of bellows being used; on the tomb of Rejmira of Egypt as well as during the times of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II. Bellows were also used by artists who used fire in their work and well as musicians. In instruments like the organ, which depended on air to make a sound, bellows would have been used to provide the air used to produce sound. This was the process of making organs work during the 15 Century and continued until improvements on the organ made the bellows not necessary to operate the organ.
The bellows we have in our collection at the High Plains Museum was used for blacksmith work. Blacksmiths would use the
bellows to pump air to the forge when they were working. Goodland had a blacksmith shop where this object may have been used. The William N. Rowe Blacksmith Shop was moved from Sherman Center to Goodland around 1888. The picture to the right shows Rowe’s blacksmith shop. From left to right is Frank Stewart, an unidentified man, and William Rowe.
Bellows are still used today, although not always for fireplaces. Bellows are used in piping, as air pumps, and as a sealing method. Patents have been filed for nano-grained aluminum alloy bellows and an improved bellows shield in a plasma processing system and method of manufacture of such bellows shield.
Bellows are an object that at one time were used by most people with fireplaces to fan the flames. Today bellows are still used, although not in ways we would think. Bellows are used in our piping systems as well being used to help seal things. This object, that played an important role in houses and blacksmiths, has been reinvented in a sense to be used in new ways today.