Funeral parlors began emerging in the 1800s following the example of the oldest funeral home in the United States, which was founded in 1761. Prior to the 1800s, most Americans cared for their own dead loved ones at home, burying them on family owned property or in community graveyards.
Historians think that Kirk & Nice Funeral Home unofficially opened in Philadelphia in 1761. The mortuary, which continues to be open for business as of 2015, started as a cabinet shop that produced furniture and coffins. Following the many deaths during the 1777 Battle of Germantown, the shop began producing caskets in high volume and helping prepare the dead for burial. The funeral home, along with others that sprang up in the 1800s, began embalming corpses the bodies of Civil War soldiers whose bodies were being shipped long distances for burial at home.
Funeral parlors caught on throughout the nation in the early 20th century, as many people moved to smaller lots and apartments, which did not lend themselves to displaying bodies for mourners. It was at this time that the term "undertaker" came into use, meaning a person who "undertook" responsibility for arranging funerals.
Through the decades, most American funeral homes have been family owned businesses, passed down from one generation to the next. Many aspects of the industry remain the same.