Here's an advertisement from a May 1996 Ontario newspaper:
"Hot water produced ... by our system of solar heating, a valuable invention especially adapted to this climate," read the ad from G.B. Southard of Ontario.
Ooops, I've made a mistake. That ad was actually from 1896.
Solar heating 112 years ago? How can that be?
Actually, solar water heating is hardly a newcomer to the Inland Empire. At one time there were not only many homes with solar water heating systems installed on roofs, but before World War II, there were at least two companies in Ontario making the systems.
A century ago, the housewife's only way to make hot water was to on a wood-burning stove. Only a few homes then were equipped with electricity and even fewer with gas, making washing dishes and or taking the Saturday evening bath a difficult undertaking.
But then came a man named William J. Bailey, who in Monrovia figured an efficient way to use the sun to heat water and keep it hot in storage containers. Like today's units, his system had collectors placed on roofs using copper water pipes painted black. Water warmed by the California sun was sent to an insulated tank for storage in the house.
Bailey's firm - Night and Day Solar Water Heating Co. - offered equipment to create "steaming hot water from a solar heater day or night."
In 1914, Bailey opened an Inland Empire manufacturing plant at 103 S. Euclid Ave. in Ontario.
For $100, you got a 4-foot by 10-foot collector installed on your roof with a 40-gallon storage tank. The company claimed it would save you about $25 a year in wood, gas, electricity or sometimes even coal, and pay for itself in three or four years.
An ad by the Upland Hardware Co. in the Ontario Record of August 1910 said the system it sold could heat 70 gallons of water to 170 degrees with just four hours of sunshine.
As early as 1906, San Dimas plumber H.L. Foresman and businessman O.W. Hoke produced their own solar system that heated water in a 30- to 40-gallon tank installed in the attic of a house. The firm built systems put up throughout the area, going as far away as Santa Paula.
In the Etiwanda area of today's Rancho Cucamonga, the Mueller family had a solar system when their East Avenue house was built about 1914. And it kept the 80-gallon tank fairly full of hot water.
"It was enough water, if you didn't take a bath every day," Elmer Mueller told the Ontario Daily Report in 1980.
The concept grew in popularity into the 1920s and 1930s with as many as 25,000 solar water systems installed in Southern California homes.
La Vaughn Moberly of Montclair, in a letter to the Ontario Library written in 1979, said a solar water heating system in her family's house in Cucamonga was just the thing because the only alternative was the use of expensive electricity. But it wasn't always reliable.
"When the sun shone, we had all the hot water we could use, but on cloudy days we had to resort to electricity," she recalled.
And that has always been a knock on solar systems - they don't function well during extended periods of cloudy weather. And when the rare freeze came to the area, burst water pipes caused major problems for many homeowners.
To the rescue came natural gas, discovered in significant amounts throughout Southern California in the 1920s. Suddenly, very cheap natural gas was available for cooking and heating water any time - you could even take that bath every day.
Gas companies even offered low-cost or financed water heaters which just about put solar heating companies out of business in Southern California.
The last Day and Night solar systems were built in 1941 as the company turned to manufacturing gas water heaters.