The humble hot water bottle is making something of a comeback. In these increasingly green times, portable forms of bedtime warmth and cosiness seem to be a better environmental option than eating up the watts using an electric blanket or leaving the central heating on all night. Cheaper too for hard pressed householders! It’s true that today all sorts of microwavable alternatives are available, but who can cuddle a nonwoven material pad that’s heated in a microwave oven? Can children really let their imaginations run riot and make a heating pad their best friend? Surely it’s far easier with characters like Walter Hottle Bottle, the special hot water bottle belonging to a young boy called Charles that was first seen in Jack and Jill magazine in 1963. When Charles dreamed, Walter came to life and took him on every kind of adventure imaginable including building sandcastles in the Arabian Desert and trips to the moon. The hot water bottle is also beloved by the sciatica and back pain sufferer, people with a stomach ache or anyone with a cricked neck. The comforting portability of a hot water bottle can be used anywhere, for any purpose.
Devices for warming your bed are nothing new of course. The earliest versions were in use as early as the 16th century and contained hot coals from the dying embers of the fire. These bed warmers were effective in warming the bed before you got into it but they also had a tendency to scald if they were left in the bed or in some cases burn the bed (and house) down! Using hot water had obvious advantages, among them the fact that the bed warmer could remain in the bed while you slept. That required a material that was waterproof and could withstand heat, so early hot water bottles were made from stuff like zinc, copper, glass, earthenware or even wood! To prevent burning, early metal hot water bottles were wrapped in a soft cloth bag.
Earthenware or stone hot water bottles persisted for a while well into the 1960s, but most modern day conventional hot water bottles are manufactured in rubber or similar silicone material, to a design patented by a Croatian inventor called Slavoljub Eduard Penkala. Eduard was a bright spark who attended the University of Vienna and Technische Universität Dresden, earning a doctorate in organic chemistry. Aside from the hot water bottle (the first of his 80 patented inventions) which he called the "Termofor”, he also became renowned for further development of the mechanical or propelling pencil, the first solid-ink fountain pen, and the first Croatian two-seat aeroplane.
In the early 20th Century hot water bottles really became objects of desire as well as functional items. Exotic "hotties" were produced all around the world, including American examples from the Prohibition days designed to hold illicit moonshine and exquisite Japanese hot water bottles which had transparent double walls for the display of miniature tropical fish. By the late 20th century, the use of hot water bottles had markedly declined around most of the world. Not only were more homes equipped with central heating, but innovations like electric blankets were competing with hot water bottles as a source of night-time heat. Hot water bottles remained popular in some developing countries and rural areas. They are still widely used in Chile for example, where the hot water bottle is called a "guatero".
However, rising energy costs and the need to reduce carbon footprint have given a new lease of life to the hot water bottle. Conventional hot water bottles and purpose-designed heating pads have also gained popularity as they can be used to great effect for the local application of heat as a medical treatment to relieve muscle and joint pain.
Other articles on this site: Benefits of the Hot Water Bottle.