What’s a Boiler?

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Boilers, or boiling houses, were once common in factories for boiling large quantities of liquid. They were traditionally made of stone or brick and used for mass production of processed foods like sugar. Slaves often worked in them, suffering injury or death. Today, modern devices have replaced boilers for efficiency, cost, and safety reasons.

In the manufacturing industry, a boiler is a place designed to boil large quantities of liquid. Also known as boiling houses, these buildings were once commonly found in factories. The actual mechanism used to boil fluids is also known as a boilery.

One of the more common examples of this term is a brine boilery. Brine boilers have long been used to evaporate salt water in order to produce salt. Most boilers today, however, are used to boil industrial products rather than food products. Some soaps are also produced in boiling houses.

Traditional boiler houses were originally built of cut stone or brick. These sturdy structures were often used for the mass production of processed foods, such as sugar. Sugar was typically made in a boiler from the 17th to 19th centuries. The sugar cane juice was treated with lime in large clarification vats, before being heated in copper kettles over individual furnaces. The boiler was so important to the sugar making process that most western sugar plantations had their own boilers attached to it.

Each individual furnace was also built of stone or brick, arranged in the shape of a box. The kilns all had bottom openings where workers could keep the fire going and clean any ashes or excrement from the produce. Each furnace was large enough to heat up to seven copper boilers or kettles. After the heating process, many liquids were diverted from the boiler into wooden troughs, or dishes, to cool and become safe for storage, packaging or sale. Many boiler products were stored in large barrels called casks.

During the time boilers were used, slaves typically performed the work in them. This was especially true on sugar plantations. The working conditions were considered harsh and dangerous, with people pouring liquid from a hot copper kettle into a smaller, hotter kettle over and over again, until the process was complete. Slaves often suffered injury or death while working there. People who worked in a boiler house were known as strikebreakers and were among the most skilled and sought after workers.

People once encountered boilers regularly in life, just as they might encounter a bakery or other specialized factory today. Modern means of boiling in large vats or other devices, however, have replaced the boilers. These devices are considered to be more efficient and less expensive. In some cases, they may even be considered more environmentally friendly and safer as well.

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