M17899 | Foot warmer

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Foot warmer
Aboriginal: St. Lawrence Iroquoian
19th century
Iron and wood
16.9 x 23.7 x 23.7 cm
Gift of Miss Mabel Molson
© McCord Museum
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Keys to History

Quebeckers devised a number of ways to get through the harsh winters. In the 19th century, portable foot warmers like this typical one helped people keep comfortable. The metal box was filled with glowing embers or coals, and the heat circulated through the holes.

Research: Josée Bergeron, under the supervision of Joanne Burgess, Ph.D, Laboratoire Laboratoire d'histoire et de patrimoine de Montréal & Canadian Forum for Public Research on Heritage, UQÀM.

  • What

    The foot warmer, an iron box in a wooden frame, has a carrying handle. A pattern of holes of different shapes is punched into the metal sides to let out the heat.

  • Where

    In town, they were no doubt used primarily by middle-class people who had their own coach or buggy. In the country, they were probably used by a broader segment of society.

  • When

    As far back as New France, foot warmers, hand warmers and bed warmers were popular. The designs and the materials varied. The heat source consisted of a burning fuel, very hot water, white-hot bricks or something else that would give off heat for a while. Nineteenth-century foot warmers of this type were chiefly used for sleigh rides and church services.

  • Who

    The name of the maker is unknown, but frame is marked with the initials I.K. and a heart. The foot warmer was donated by collector Mabel Molson (1888-1973), the last surviving member of the fourth generation of the well-known Montreal family. She was very involved in the development of a number of Montreal museums, including the McCord and the Museum of Fine Arts.