Modern History Of Cremation

Modern History Of Cremation

cremation-historyModern cremation history, as we know it, actually began only a little over a century ago, after years of experimentation into the development of a dependable chamber. When Professor Brunetti of Italy finally perfected his model and displayed it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition, the history of the cremation movement started almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the British Isles, the movement was fostered by Queen Victoria’s surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson. Concerned with hazardous health conditions, Sir Henry and his colleagues founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874. The first crematories in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany.

Meanwhile in North America, although there had been two recorded instances of cremation history before 1800, the real start began in 1876 when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory to make ashes in Washington, Pennsylvania.

In 1884 the second crematory opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and, as was true of many of the early crematories, it was owned and operated by a cremation society. Other forces behind early crematory history were Protestant clergy who desired to reform burial practices and the medical profession concerned with health conditions around early cemeteries. Once again the thought that ashes was a healtier alternative to burial.

Crematories soon sprang up in Buffalo, New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit and Los Angeles. By 1900, there were already 20 crematories in operation, and by the time that Dr. Hugo Erichsen founded the Cremation Association of America in 1913, there were 52 crematories in North America and over 10,000 cremations took place in that year.

In 1975, the name was changed to the Cremation Association of North America to be more indicative of the membership composition of the United States and Canada. At that time, there were over 425 crematories and nearly 150,000 cremations all ending in ashes.

In 2006 the history of cremation accelerated to over 700,000 cremations for a total of 32% of all American deaths ended with cremation. Now in 2012 and the ongoing recession in the USA, the cremation rate is booming as it tops 42%

Cremation dates back to the late Stone Age as evidenced by finds of decorative pottery urns in western Russia among the Slavic peoples. Modern cremation began after Professor Burnetti of Italy displayed his model at the 1873 Vienna Exposition (Cremation Association of North America 2002).

In 1876, Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in the United States in Washington, Pennsylvania. In 1884 the second crematory opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Groups behind early crematory openings included Protestant clergy who desired to reform burial practices and members of the medical profession who were concerned about the unhealthy conditions around early cemeteries. By 1900, there were 20 crematories in operation in the United States (Cremation Association of North America 2002).

With the advent of the Bronze Age — 2500 to 1000 B.C. — cremation moved into the British Isles and into what is now Spain and Portugal. Cemeteries for cremation developed in Hungary and northern Italy, spreading to northern Europe and even Ireland.

In the Mycenaean Age — circa 1000 B.C. — cremation became an integral part of the elaborate Grecian burial custom. In fact, it became the dominant mode of disposition by the time of Homer in 800 B.C. and was actually encouraged for reasons of health and expedient burial of slain warriors in this battle-ravaged country.

Following this Grecian trend, the early Romans probably embraced cremation some time around 600 B.C. and it apparently became so prevalent that an official decree had to be issued in the mid 5th Century against the cremation of bodies within the city.

By the time of the Roman Empire — 27 B.C. to 395 A.D. — it was widely practiced, and cremated remains were generally stored in elaborate urns, often within columbarium like buildings.

Cremation rates

Countries such as Japan (97 percent), Great Britain (70 percent) and Scandinavia (65 percent) continue to have a high percentage of cremations. In Canada the rate is 38 percent (Cremationist 2000, 36(2):10).

During 2000, the cremation rate in the United States was 25.5 percent (2,367,000 deaths with 603,092 cremations). By 2010 the National Funeral Directors Association predicts the cremation rate will climb to 36 percent. In 2000, there were six states with a cremation rate above 50 percent: Hawaii and Nevada (61 percent), Washington and Oregon (56 percent), and Arizona and Montana (51 percent) (Cremation Association of North America, 2002).


Cremation Association of North America. On-line:

International Cemetery and Funeral Association. On-line:

Montana Board of Funeral Service. 2001. Consumer Information About Funerals.

Montana Codes Annotated (MCA). 2001. 35-21-802, 35-21-810, 37-19-705/708, 37-19-101.

Ritualization and Memorialization: 1999 Update. Cremationist, 36(1):4-24.

Ritualization and Memorialization: 1999 Update. Cremationist, 36(2):8-29.



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