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Chimney Sweeps

History

The traditional image of the soot-faced chimney sweep in top hat and tails, carrying a long brush, is still very much a part of the chimney sweep industry. Many chimney sweep businesses and organizations use the image in advertising and logos, including the National Chimney Sweep Guild. The sweep of popular imagination originated in the city of preindustrial London, with its tight rows of brick houses. Before the introduction of central heating, chimney sweeps thrived. The sweep took on an almost mythical quality, leaping from roof to roof, chimney pot to chimney pot. Unfortunately, the industry didn't have the safety codes, equipment, and technology of today, which resulted in health hazards. Cancer and other illnesses particularly affected the small boys and girls who, long before child labor laws, were cruelly sent into the chimneys to do the work a brush couldn't. Today's chimney sweep, however, working under the strict codes of the National Fire Protection Association, is more closely associated with health—their evaluations and repairs save lives and homes from destruction by fire.

Though chimney sweeping has a long tradition, only in the last 40 years or so has it developed as a modern career choice. The energy crisis of the early 1970s resulted in many homeowners converting from central heat to fireplaces and stoves. The popularity of wood-burning stoves has waned somewhat since then because of fears of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning, but the chimney sweep industry is hard at work to educate the public about advances in the technology and equipment that keeps fireplaces and chimneys perfectly safe.