Pyrography is derived from the Greek words pur (meaning fire) and graphos (meaning writing). People have probably "written with fire" since fire was discovered. Cavemen may well have used charred sticks to draw on the walls of their caves! However no examples survive for us to see. In early times pyrography, as today, was principally used for the decoration of artifacts, examples of which are likely to have been lost, principally as it was classified as a folk art rather than paintings and sculptures. Dried gourds used as domestic vessels are one of the most widespread artefacts that are decorated with pyrographic techniques and this spreads the net of possible areas where it would have been common practice to all tropical and sub-tropical and many temperate parts of the world.
According to Kathleen Menendez of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art the earliest surviving example of pyrography is in fact a "container" decorated with flowers and hummingbirds found in Peru (actually pictured on http://carverscompanion.com/Ezine/Vol2Issue1) which seems to be one of the main birthplaces of pyrography. This has been dated to before 700 AD. However Patricia Arnold (www.suite101.com) claims the earliest surviving example of wood burning found was a Roman caudex that dates back to the occupation of Britain in the 1st to 4th centuries. However it is thought that pyrography was practised in Peru 3000 years ago. In Europe, Asia, Australia and America pyrography was used to decorate artifacts such musical instruments and kitchenware. In Europe the use of pyrography is thought to have appeared in the medieval and renaissance periods. The Great Masters were thought to have used pyrography to decorate wainscots, although this has not been substantiated.
In Victorian times it became more popular, being accepted as an art form called pokerwork. This because they would have used a charcoal stove with holes all the way round into which pokers of various sizes and shapes were heated. A constant temperature had to be maintained and heat control was letting the poker cool down! Courses in pyrography were available, as now (see advert below). The standard of some of the work done at this time was remarkably high considering such crude tools were used.
Later Victorians also used more sophisticated tools such as the blow pipe Vulcan Wood Etching Machine below, and similar benzine fuelled devices. Ladies magazines took up this new craft with some fervour.
Early in the 20th Century soldering iron types of pyrography tool were developed, a type still in use today. Later in the century low voltage devices were developed with heat control with both solid point and later hot wire type nibs, and these are the tools most used by pyrographers today.