Sauna History

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The word 'sauna' is a Finnish word referring bath and to a bathhouse itself. In other Baltic-Finnic languages, sauna can also mean a small cabin or cottage. The name sauna is thought to be a derivative of the word savuna, literally “in smoke”. 

The First Sauna

There are records of the first saunas being fire pits that were dug out where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was then thrown over the hot stones to produce steam. It is believed by some to have dated all the way back towards the end of the Ice Age. The more modern “tent sauna” is the closest thing to the “earth pit saunas”. 

Sauna Evolution 

Saunas eventually became single room structures built above ground with wooden logs. The first Finnish saunas are today called savusaunas, or ‘smoke saunas’. The ‘smoke sauna’ contained a pile of rocks, called kiuas, that were heated by burning large amounts of wood for 6 to 8 hours, and then letting the smoke out before entering. This room did not have a chimney but it did have a small air vent in the back wall. 

These log saunas were used for purification rituals for events such as weddings and funeral preparations. The bodies of the dead were brought to the sauna to be cleaned and prepared for the funeral. 

These small rooms were also used in all seasonal and sacred holidays throughout the year, including New Years, Midsummer, and harvest time. 

Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution, the sauna evolved to use a metal woodstove, or kiuas, with a chimney. The lˆyly (steam vapor) was created by splashing water on the heated rocks. The Finns also used a bundle of birch twigs with fresh leaves to stimulate the pores and cells by slapping the skin. Since the sauna was often the cleanest structure and had water readily available, Finnish women also gave birth in the sauna.

Modern Saunas in America

The Finns are thought to have brought the sauna to America around 1638, whenever they first settled in current day Delaware. The modern sauna is most influenced by the Finnish sauna. Modern living along with the development of electricity changed the sauna experience again. Saunas became more accessible in the U.S. after the electric sauna stove was developed in the 1950s. After 360 years in this country, the sauna has become an established tradition for many Americans as it has been for the Finns.

Far Infared Saunas

The advent of electricity in the latter part of the 19th century along with the passion of John Harvey Kellogg, who spent his life embracing holistic healing modalities. Credit also goes to William Herschel, who was the first to discover infrared rays in the 1880s. 

It wouldn’t be for another several decade before far infrared technology was heavily researched by NASA. It was in Japan, however, that the first patent for a ceramic far infrared heater was established. Eventually, the product finally made its way to the US, and is continued to be used today, as well as the modernized Finnish-type sauna.  

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