Scholars today quite generally agree that cremation probably
began in any real sense during the early Stone Age -- around
3000 B.C. -- and most likely in Europe and the Near East.
During the late Stone Age cremation began to spread across
northern Europe, as evidenced by particularly informative finds
of decorative pottery urns in western Russia among the Slavic
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
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
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
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.
Prevalent though the practice was among the Romans, cremation
was rare with the early Christians who considered it pagan and
in the Jewish culture where traditional sepulcher entombment was
However, by 400 A.D., as a result of Constantine's
Christianization of the Empire, earth burial had completely
replaced cremation except for rare instances of plague or war,
and for the next 1,500 years remained the accepted mode of
disposition throughout Europe.
Modern cremation, 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 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 before 1800, the real start
began in 1876 when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory
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 openings were Protestant clergy who
desired to reform burial practices and the medical profession
concerned with health conditions around early cemeteries.
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.
In 1999, there were 1,468 crematories and 595,617 cremations,
a percentage of 25.39% of all deaths in the United States.
Information from The Cremation
Association of North America
What is the Cremation Trend?
Cremations as percentage of deaths are rising rapidly. In
1998, 553,000 Americans were cremated. The U.S. national rate is
26%. Canada’s cremation rate is 45%. In England and Japan, it is
90%. These rates will continue to increase for a number of
reasons: Economic - the direct and indirect costs
associated with cremation are much lower than burial.
Environmental – less land, if any depending on deposition,
is used. Sanitary considerations - in-ground burial can
contaminate water supplies for entire communities. There is more
flexibility to the deposition of the cremated remains compared
to a casket burial. For these reasons, cremation has become an
acceptable, and for many, preferable form of deposition.
The last few
decades have seen a dramatic increase in cremation as an
alternative form of final disposition to the traditional burial.
This has increased the need for options when determining a final
resting place for the remains. Some families choose to scatter
the remains in a meaningful way; however, a majority chooses to
place them in a permanent container or cremation urn. Cremation
urns can be placed in columbarium niche at a cemetery, in an
cremation urn garden or they can be taken home with the family.
Placing the remains in a permanent cremation urn container
should be an important consideration for a family to make as
opposed to scattering them. Scattering is irreversible.