The History of Cremation
Many people ask the questions 'when did cremation begin?'. Although there is no particular date, cremation has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. In fact, archeologists tell us that the history of cremation began as far back as 20,000 years ago, along the shores of Lake Mungo, in Australia. By the Middle Ages, cremation became a form of punishment and was not viewed as a compassionate way to care for the deceased. Cremation reclaimed popularity by the late 1800’s. The first crematory in the United States was constructed in 1876 and by 1913, there were 52 crematories across North America.
The popularity of cremation in locations around the world has waxed and waned over the centuries; growing in popularity during some centuries, then discarded as a commonplace practice; only to have interest renewed. Commonly this was due to the imposition of religious or social doctrine by conquering peoples; or in some cases, by governmental decree (as in modern China, where cremation has been made mandatory in most regions).
If you're interested in the earliest cremation practices of far-flung peoples, we suggest you read Facts about the History of Cremation, or turn to the Online Sources below.
Megan Sickles tells readers of the online article, "Ashes to Ashes: America's First Crematorium"; unlike today, cremation was not always available in this country. In fact, she writes "...the story of modern cremation in America began in the mid-1800s in a small Pennsylvania town thirty miles southwest of Pittsburgh and one man, Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne." It seems the good doctor had grown concerned about what he felt were unhealthy practices: embalming (made mainstream during the Civil War) and the traditional practice of burial. His solution to the problem was to construct the first crematorium; which was little more than a reception room connected to a furnace room, where the cremation actually took place.
Ms. Sickles tells readers author Margaret McCulloch, in her biography of Dr. LeMoyne, Fearless Advocate of the Right, the Life of Francis J. LeMoyne, M.D. (published in 1941), described the furnace, “[it] was in structure a simple type of fire-clay retort...merely a large brick furnace with a metal door provided with a small opening for observation." The first cremation took place later that same year, on December 6th, 1876. The second crematory opened in that same state in 1884, and just sixteen years later, in 1900, there were 20 crematories in operation in the United States.
Today, the rise in the popularity of cremation throughout North America continues to climb. Often motivated by funeral costs or environmental awareness; more families each year are choosing cremation when making funeral arrangements. If you would like to know more about cremation to decide if it would be the right choice for you, please feel free to call us at your leisure at (301) 739-5498.
CANA, "History of Cremation", Cremation Association of North America, accessed 2014
Goetting, Marsha and Claire DelGuerra, "Cremation: History, Process, and Regulations", 2003, The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues 8(1), accessed 2014
Sickles, Megan, "Ashes to Ashes: America's First Crematorium", Pennsylvania State University, 2009, accessed 2014