The History of Sauna

old saunaSAUNA, correctly pronounced "sow (rhymes with wow!) nah," is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary; it means "bath" and "bathhouse." Sauna has been a way of life in Finland, where it was invented, for over 2000 years. One of the first written descriptions of the Finnish Sauna was in 1112. The earliest Sauna was dug into an embankment in the ground. Later Saunas were built above ground with wooden logs. The rocks were heated in a stone stove with a wood fire until the rocks were super hot. This room did not have a chimney but a small air vent in the back wall. The smoke was allowed to fill the room while it was heating. It was a half-day process to heat this type of room. When the Sauna reached temperature, the bathers entered after the smoke cleared. The walls and ceiling would become dark black. This original Sauna was called "savu" (Finnish for smoke) Sauna. The name Sauna it thought to be a derivative of the word savuna, literally "in smoke". The Sauna later evolved to the more typical metal woodstove heater with the chimney. Wherever Finns traveled they brought their Sauna culture with them. It was first brought to America by Finns who settled in the current state of Delaware in 1638. Modern day life and electricity evolved the Sauna again. Saunas became more accessible in the U.S. after the electric Sauna stove was developed in the 1950s. Some Americans that lived near Scandinavian communities may have been lucky enough to discover Saunas early on. After 360 years in this country, the Sauna has become an established tradition for many Americans as it has been for the Finns.