Most Scholars today 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 peoples.
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. By 2009, there were over 2,100 crematories and over 900,000 cremations...and 36.84% of deaths in the United States were handled through cremation.
According to the 2019 NFDA Cremation & Burial Report, the 2019 cremation rate was estimated at 54.8% and burial rate 39.0%
The History of Cremation - Cremation Association of North America (CANA)
Statistics - National Funeral Director's Association (NFDA)