12.10-2: Penn 1930 Room Temperature Control

HHCC Accession No. 2006.090HHCC Classification Code: 12.10-2

An early, automatic room temperature control device, using an hydraulic bellows, temperature sensor, with open contact, line voltage switching. Temperature control devices of this genre, would introduce automation into the Canadian household, set new standards of winter comfort and convenience for Canadians, and in so doing become markers of profound social and cultural change; Type A, Penn, Circa 1930

Image Gallery (3 Images)

12.10 Pressure Atomizing Oil Burner Equipment and Systems - Room Temperature Thermostats




Penn Electric Switch Co., Des Moines, Iowa


Type A

Serial No.:

4 x 5 x 7’h


1.5 lbs.




Exhibit, education, and research quality, illustrating the engineering design of automatic oil heating, thermostatic controls in the early years of the 20th century

Patent Date/Number:



From York County (York Region) Ontario, once a rich agricultural hinterlands, attracting early settlement in the last years of the 18th century. Located on the north slopes of the Oak Ridges Moraine, within 20 miles of Toronto, the County would also attract early ex-urban development, to be come a wealthy market place for the emerging household and consumer technologies of the early and mid 20th century.

This artifact was discovered in the 1950’s in the used stock of T. H. Oliver, Refrigeration and Electric Sales and Service, Aurora, Ontario, an early worker in the field of agricultural, industrial and consumer technology.

This thermostat was used in a household in York County [York Region] north of Toronto in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Type and Design:

Hydraulic bellows actuated, line voltage, open contact structure

Special Features:
Performance Characteristics:
Control and Regulation:
Targeted Market Segment:
Consumer Acceptance:
Market Price:
Technological Significance:

The competing thermostat technologies of the day were helical bimetal spring [See ID 215] and hydraulic bellows designs, shown here. Much larger and much less finely sculptured than its Time-O-Stat counterpart [See ID#215], without the sales appeal, it appears to be targeted on a different market segment. While similar in many ways to the engineering and construction of the Mercoid thermostat [See ID #213], the Pen model employed open contact switching, a break with much of the practice of the field in this period.
Requiring a robust contact structure, capable of handling motor starting current, would make the device much less responsive to temperature changes than later developments would allow, see for example #ID 217 and 220

Industrial Significance:

Penn’s concept of what a room thermostat should look like, in order to please the tastes of the well-to-do marketplace appears well behind those of their competitor, Time-O-Stat [See ID # 215]. It could well have been the company’s initial foray into the residential, room thermostat market, where it would find that appearance was everything.
Pen Electric, much like the Mercoid Company, came into the market with a hydraulic bellows, actuated room thermostat, hoping to capture a portion of the then rapidly expanding, household, automatic, oil heating business. But even in the early 1930 the automatic heating industry was entering an increasingly competitive market, although it likely appeared at the time to be almost unlimited. The competing thermostat designs of the 1920’s and early 30’s [See ID #213, 214, 215] amply demonstrate the immense inventiveness of the period in which a range of technologies were being experimented with for automating home heating systems. Simple devices, by 21st century standards, they were non-the-less products of great engineering ingenuity for their times. They required materials and manufacturing techniques and expertise, which challenged the best engineering minds of the day.

Socio-economic Significance:
Socio-cultural Significance:

Such temperature actuated, automated devices marketed with great success for the Canadian home in the early 1930’s would change forever the expectations of Canadians for winter comfort and convenience. An industry promotion in the National Geographic in 1928 promised the householder “June comfort on every zero morning”. The marketing of automatic oil heating had become part of the main stream of the new consumerism in North America, now the subject of national advertising campaigns.
But it was still the first quarter of the 20th century and technology in the home was as yet not a common experience. There was, in fact, still much public concern about the presence of electricity in the home, and electrical appliances of any type, especially heating ones which would operate automatically, coming on and off without the touch of human hands. They were a source of suspicion, often fear and mistrust, while at the same time being objects of intrigue, especially for the well-off who could afford to be intrigued. But it was a period, too, were there was a new desire for the comforts of home all that could be afforded in a period of wide spread economic depression.
Manufacturers of the new technologies for the home would take full advantage of the public mood, as a consequence 20th century marketing was born and along with it the use of often shameless hyperbola on a level not here-to-for found in the market place [see Williams-Oil-0-Matic advertisement in April 1926 national Geographic]. For many Canadians the words ‘oil heat’ and ‘automatic’ highly promoted, where to become synonymous with a new lifestyle, comfort and convenience, and a new popular wisdom of what 20th century life was all about, Such words would herald the promise of a new future for those that could afford it. Such terms would be part of an advance guard that would quickly follow, with the advance of ever more intrusive mechanical, electric, electronic and digital technologies. These technologies would serve to reshape every aspect of human and community life. They would be the building blocks, part of a new, manufactured 20th century reality, bring with it new encoded information, ideas, myths, beliefs, traditions expectations and wisdom’s that would multiply and dominate North American life through into the 21st century. The study of culturally induced meanings and cultural significance inherent in the vast array of three dimensional objects, with which Canadians would increasingly surround themselves, starting in the early years of the 20th century, would become the subject of scholarly study well before the end of the century. For Canadians, the interest would be in coming to recognize and comprehend the messages encoded in Canada’s rich material culture, learning to read what has been called the new cultural ‘hieroglyphics’, understanding their meanings and significance for our times. The educational outcomes would be tied to helping peoples to make sense out of the overcrowded conceptual field of encoded information, ideas, myths, beliefs, assumptions, traditions expectations and wisdom’s that crowd in on them from every hand in the culturally complex societies which now exist largely throughout the Western world .


G. Leslie Oliver, The T. H. Oliver HVACR Collection

HHCC Storage Location:

Used in CMX02,as H18, March 2002, but not in CMX06, not available used at HRAI display Used in HRAI ‘Rotation 1, Jan 2004, Removed Oct 2006 Restocked Jan 2007

Bibliographic References:

See foot notes


See Catalogue CMX02, March 2002 See HRAI ‘ Rotation 1 display Catalogue Jan.2004

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