Infra Cabin of Yesteryear – The History of the Sauna

A little history of the infra cabin

It is believed that the first known sauna in North America was built by Finnish and Swedish immigrants who settled somewhere in the Delaware River Valley before the American Revolution in 1638. The site where the first sauna sat in Philadelphia is actually still marked with a plaque to this day.

Saunas have grown in popularity in the last several decades, but they’ve been around for more than 7000 years. Their invention is credited to the Finns, who created the name "sauna" as a word meaning small room or house.  But other ancient cultures recognized the enjoyment and benefit of "steam baths" and "sweatboxes", including the early Russians.

However, the steam sauna as we know it – with wood cedar room, hot rocks and steam – is a distinct export of the Finnish sauna.

The Finns used the saunas as a family cleansing ritual and social experience, and later on in America, those unfamiliar with this practice claimed the Finns were worshipping Pagan Gods and performing illicit acts in the saunas. As is typically the case, a thing that was unknown was misunderstood. Over time, Finns finally gained the recognition and respect for inventing saunas; that was well deserved.


The history of the Sauna is colorful and interesting, dating back 7000 years.

Infra Cabin

The basis of a sauna is water cast onto very hot rocks, creating dry steam. The Finnish called steam the spirit of life. The temperatures range widely, from 80 to 150° degrees, depending on the type of heat and level of humidity in the sauna. The Fins used the sauna in their ancient religious ceremonies for mental, spiritual, and physical cleansing. The very first saunas were simply pits dug into a slope or hillside and used as a dwelling where people could keep warm. These primitive saunas contained a fireplace where stones were heated to high temperatures, and water was thrown onto the stones.

The Russian version of the sauna was called the "banya" or "bania". Banias date back to medieval times. Russian villages had bathhouses and the Russians bathed 2 or 3 times per week. Every noble household included a steam house. Nobles would steam themselves and then roll in the snow. Ancient Russians believed the baths to have healing properties, and believed a steam bath followed by vodka and garlic would relieve many illnesses. Saunas were widely used in the Baltic area, Estonia and Latvia regions.

Other cultures believing in baths and saunas for various health benefits include the Native American Indians, who used sweat lodges for cleansing and purifying. Romans also used saunas in their time. The stress-reducing, relaxing benefits of saunas have long been recognized by many European and North American cultures.

The largest wave of Finnish immigrants came to the United States and Canada between 1850 and 1920 when four hundred thousand Finns left their hard homeland to try their luck in the "new world." They brought with them their love of the sauna, and they shared this with other immigrants and settlers. Language barriers made it difficult to explain the saunas, but the Finns persevered.

In the mid-1900s, Americans began to embrace saunas and a few manufacturers sprung up. The Industrial Revolution leads to metal stoves to heat the rocks, by use of chimneys. When it became apparent that Finns weren't the only ones interested in buying saunas, the manufacturers of heaters picked up considerably. Saunas evolved into several different types, and their style of use varies greatly from country to country. In the early 60s, saunas became popular with the media. Hence, interest in them spiked and the benefits of the infra cabin paid off.

In the United States, the infra cabin has become a staple at spas, sports centers and gyms, and can also be found at some public pools and some high-end hotels. With the American passion for sports, having infra cabin treatment at the Olympics certainly helped bring them into the limelight. Today, many people enjoy having an infra cabin in their own home. In Finland, nearly every home has a sauna. The families consider time in the sauna together as social time. This might be good practice for American families to consider; relaxing together and practicing doing something healthy together.

The development of infrared saunas was achieved by Dr. Tadashi Ishikawa, a member of the Research and Development Department of Fuji Medical. In 1965 he received a patent for zirconia ceramic infrared heaters.

Conventional saunas warm the air, they use rocks and dry steam to heat the room. Infrared saunas warm objects - the rays penetrate the human body. Infrared saunas may use various materials in their heating area such as charcoal, active carbon fibers, and other materials. What began as a Finnish tradition and a staple in the life of the Finnish family has now become a fairly common spa experience for Americans.

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