The casket has come a long way in its illustrious history. From the ancient Egyptian sarcophagus to modern casket, there has been much advancement in the field of burial receptacles. A thorough knowledge is essential to anyone interested in the funeral industry. This report will give a brief history; discuss the different materials used, the manufacturing process, and the expected direction of the industry.
Since the time of the Pharaohs early forms of burial receptacles were anthropoidial and generally custom made. They were wide in the shoulder and became narrow at the feet. The first coffin makers in America were carpenters and cabinet makers by trade. The more expensive coffins were made of a hardwood that would be indigenous to the area. They were then polished, stained, and in some cases lined with metal. The less expensive were made of pine painted with a mixture of lampblack and glue water. There are some accounts of stone or metal coffins being used, but these were rare before the mid-1800s.
In 19th century America, the design changed to rectangular. The new design made the coffins easier to mass produce. With the change in design the funeral director changed the name as well. The term casket became main stream; derived from the French word meaning “a box for precious things.” The funeral director hoped the term would soften the sting of death. Today the terms are interchangeable.
In 1848, the Fisk Metal Burial Case made its appearance on the market (Habenstein and Lamers). An exception to the rectangular wood casket that dominated the industry, it was far from aesthetically pleasing, but was effective in the prevention of putrefaction. The case was made of raised metal, and had a glass plate that allowed the face to be viewed. The case was made from a cast of a human body, resulting in a form fit. It was much more cost effective and lighter than, earlier more bulky metal coffins. The case was airtight and often filled with a gas or liquid that prevented decay. The civil war provided many testimonials as proof of its preservation abilities as large numbers of soldiers killed in battle would travel long distances home for burial. This casket opened the door for the metal casket, which would later dominate the industry.
The modern casket comes in two main designs, the full couch and half couch. A full couch design has a single lid and offers a full view of the deceased. The half couch has a lid that is cut into 2 pieces; the head is usually open for viewing leaving the foot closed. The popularity of design varies by geography and culture.
After World War II, sheet steel became easily available and with the perfection of the assembly line metal casket production grew rapidly. By 1955, metal caskets made more than one-third of the industry’s production; by 1960, one-half of the caskets produced were metal. By the mid-1970's, metal caskets made up two-thirds of the industry's volume (Casket Industry). Today Batesville Casket Company,...