Funeral Home History

By: Ron Curry
Monday, May 21, 2018

There are a lot of funeral homes in Newark, NJ, but where did they all come from?

No one hears about funeral homes in history class, but funeral home history is actually quite interesting!

It All Starts With Embalming

Back in the day, before the mid 1800s, people didn’t go that far from home. So when they died, their bodies were displayed in the family home’s front room, or parlor, until it was time for burial. Since there wasn’t any delay from death to display to burial, the bodies didn’t need any sort of preservation. In fact, this tradition of hosting funerals in the home’s parlor is where the term “funeral parlor comes from.”

President Lincoln was killed in 1865. Due to his nearly nationwide popularity, heads of state decided to bring his body on a nationwide funeral procession. Since this trip took several weeks, his body had to be embalmed to slow decomposition.

People all around the U.S. thought, “If embalming is good enough for Lincoln, then it’s good enough for us!” and embalming became more widespread.

Funeral Homes as a Business

With embalming popularity growing, people were given the opportunity to expand their funeral traditions outside the home. Bodies were more easily transported and displayed, so funerals could be held later after death, allowing for more people to attend. Since more people attended, it was easier to host the service in a neutral place.

The Bucktrout family in Virginia witnessed a growing need for places to host funerals, and rose to the occasion. Originally coffin and cabinet manufacturers, this family expanded their business to include funeral home services, just like those we have today. The Bucktrout family opened America’s first modern funeral home.

Funeral homes were labeled as such because undertakers, or funeral directors as we now call them, usually operated their business out of their home. Family owned and operated funeral homes were pretty much the only option, but the market continued to grow and the businesses needed to expand.

Official Funeral Homes

The 1900s saw even more growth in the funeral home business. This large expansion called for formal training for funeral directors in order to streamline the business model and help the businesses grow by changing the conversation. The National Funeral Directors Association was formed in the early 1900s to help consumers view the members as professionals.

Coffin makers, florists, life insurance agencies and other connected fields also blossomed, helping funeral homes become what they are today. By 1920, there were around 24,469 funeral homes in the United States, showing a 100% growth in less than 80 years.

Diversity In Death

Like many other United States institutions, funeral homes grew out of Christian roots. Immigration laws began to relax in the 1960s, and other cultures slowly became more accepted. This influx of new beliefs created a market for funerals, and once again funeral homes stepped up. They began offering services for other ethnic and religious groups from Vietnamese and Eastern European to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Plinton Curry Funeral Home Continues the Tradition

Plinton Curry Funeral Home continues the funeral home tradition by serving the Newark, NJ area from 411 West Broad St, Westfield NJ 07090 and 428 Elizabeth Ave, Somerset NJ 08873. You can reach us at 908-232-6869 or 732-469-3300. Please feel free to call or visit with any questions; we are happy to serve you and your family.

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