Who Invented the Heating Pad? (Invention Timeline Explained)

There are some inventions out there that have become so integrated into modern society that no one ever questions where it came from. For example, the electric heating pad seems like a fancy enough item to own, but it’s also mundane in its own right, to the point where most people don’t know how heating pads came to be.

That said, heating pads have been a thing for a very long time, but not in the way you might think. People have been using heated rocks to treat aches and pains for thousands of years! If you’re interested in how it eventually evolved into the heating pad, here’s a quick (and thorough) guide and timeline.

Who invented the heating pad?

There are currently two sources claiming ownership over the electric heating pad we know and love. The first is Earl Richardson, calling it the “El Warmo,” and the second is S.I. ”Pop” Russell who was known to have invented the heating pad as part of a cure for tuberculosis.

The heating pad’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • The Ancient  Egyptians
    One of the first to consider heat therapy

    To talk about heating pads is to talk about heat therapy as a whole, and how it came to evolve over time. The ancient Egyptians were one of the first to realize that the sun’s rays could be used as a means of healing aches and pains.

  • The Ancient Greeks
    Continued the trend with heat therapy

    Aside from the ancient Egyptians, you also had the Greeks. Hippocrates once stated, “Give me the power to create fevers, and I shall cure all disease.” He knew the healing power the sun could provide.

  • Earl Richardson
    Developer of the electric heating pad, “El Warmo”

    Earl Richardson was fond of electricity in general, and he had a habit of ‘electrifying’ various items to turn it into a new product. There was El Chafo (chafing dish), El Eggo (egg fryer), El Warmo of course, and more.

  • S.I. “Pop” Russell
    Developed the heating pad nearly the same time

    While El Warmo is usually credited as the first electric heating pad, this particular heating pad was developed as a means of treating tuberculosis.

When was the heating pad invented?

The electric heating pad was invented in 1911, known as the El Warmo by Earl Richardson. S.I. “Pop” Russell invented his own form of the electric heating pad the next year.

A brief history of the heating pad

One thing to note about the heating pad is that it comes from heat therapy, and the heating pad would never have been invented without the advancements made by ancient civilizations. Even in the old days, people already understood that the use of heat — specifically the sun’s rays — had the effect of easing aches and pains. The ancient Egyptian healers had a habit of using heat therapy, even if their climate was known for its particularly brutal heat.

In the case of the Greeks, they also used heat therapy, as they had an understanding that fevers had a tendency to fight off diseases. Hippocrates was noted as saying if you gave him the means of inducing fevers, he would eliminate all disease. Heat therapy is a natural method of healing used to treat the body in various ways, and various cultures made good use of it, from the Japanese to the Native Americans.

As far as the modern heating pad goes, the distinction goes to two remarkable individuals. The first was Earl Richardson, an individual who enjoyed inventing various items powered by electricity in the 1900s. The El Warmo, an electric heating pad, was one of his first creations. Another individual goes by the name of S.I. “Pop” Russell, who invented his own version of the heating pad to treat patients with tuberculosis. Not much else changed after that, as the general schematics of the heating pad only experienced a few changes over the years. It seems like a simple device, but it use was borne out of thousands of years of knowledge.

The heating pad timeline

  1. 3000 BC
    The ancient Egyptians starting the trend

    The Egyptians were known as the first civilization to practice the use of heat therapy. Considering their harsh climate, it was only natural that they would also find the healing benefits of the sun.

  2. 5th century BC
    The ancient Greeks evolving heat therapy

    At this point, notable figures such as Hippocrates have figured out the importance of heat therapy, specifically when it comes to inducing a fever. He believed that if one were to induce a fever, it could potentially remove all disease.

  3. 1911
    Earl Richardson’s creation

    Earl Richardson was always interested in boosting specific products with electricity, and the electric heating pad was one of his inventions. He famously named it El Warmo.

  4. 1912
    S.I. “Pop” Russell’s creation

    Similarly, Russell was able to create his own version of the electric heating pad, though this one was meant more as a treatment for tuberculosis.

Where was the heating pad invented?

The heating pad was invented in 1911 by Earl Richardson in Ontario, Canada.

The importance of the heating pad

  • An invention that evolved from heat therapy

    The ancient Egyptians figured out the benefits of heat on the human body, and from then on it was a slow yet meaningful evolution toward the heating pad. Many civilizations had their own form of heat therapy, making it one of the more crucial parts of ancient, natural medicine.

  • The next step after applying cold compress

    At the start of an injury, it’s a good idea to use cold compress to help stop the injury from swelling. Afterward, it’s crucial that you apply heat to help promote healing, which is why so many people use electric heating pads.

  • A seemingly mundane, yet crucial device

    The thing about heating pads is not many people wonder where it came from, or who invented it. It’s become such a normal part of the everyday household that barely anyone questions it, yet they use it all the time. It’s a curious thing indeed.

  • Simple and effective

    The heating pad is simple to use, and extremely effective if you know how to use it. It’s as simple as plugging it in and letting it warm the affected area. It can help with all sorts of aches and pains, helping to ease both physical and mental strain. It’s an example of heat therapy at its best.

The heating pad by the numbers

  • 10The number of products that came out alongside El Warmo when Earl Richardson was inventing all sorts of electric devices. There’s an electric coffee pot, a chafing dish, an early hotplate, and much more.
  • 48The first 48 hours after an injury is usually reserved for ice packs and the cold compress. After 48 hours have passed, it’s better to use a heating pad as it can help promote overall healing. It can sometimes be confusing to figure out when to use cold and warmth, so keep the first 48 in mind!
  • 30The number of minutes it usually takes for a heating pad to be effective. There are some electric heating pads that are effective within the first 10 minutes, though it’s often best to wait 30 minutes for the ideal effect.
  • 16The century when heat therapy started to gain popularity in places such as China and Japan, specifically when it came to the hot springs!

Five facts about the heating pad

  • The importance of a towel

    Typically, it’s okay for a modern heating pad to be placed directly on the skin, but more often than not it’s better to wrap it in a towel before use. 

  • The primary goal of the original heating pad

    One of the inventors of the heating pad had intended it to treat those with tuberculosis. It was important to have heat from a source of moisture to help promote wellness, and so it became the primary function of one of the first heating pads.

  • The automatic shut-off feature

    One cool thing about modern heating pads is how they have a shut-off feature when they’ve been running for a certain amount of time. This ensures that the user isn’t accidentally injured in case they leave it on and fall asleep.

  • What the heat does to your body

    The heat from a heating pad aids with circulation, making it easier to heal from injuries and also helping those with joint pains.

  • The potential dangers

    While heating pads can be extremely convenient, they can also be dangerous for those who aren’t careful and misuse it.

FAQ about the heating pad

  • What’s the safest way to use a heating pad? Slow and steady is the name of the game when it comes to the use of heating pads. You’ll want to go with the lowest setting, and slowly but surely increase the setting if you find it isn’t enough. 
  • When should I use a heating pad? You can use it whenever you want, though it’s typically used to help with aches and pains. If you have aching and sore joints, it might be a good idea to go for the heating pad. That said, new injuries are better off being given a cold compress.
  • When is it unsafe to use a heating pad? If you find any damage on the electrical cord or anywhere around the heating pad, it’s potentially unsafe. It’s also not a good idea to place the pad directly on an open wound. Wrap it with a towel before use if you want to be extra safe.
  • What’s the best heating pad around? The thing about heating pads is there are so many available on the marketplace that you’re spoiled for choice! You can’t go wrong with products that have a high approval rating!

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