Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Old Time New England Cook Stoves

Old Time New England Cook Stoves
Early American Cooking Stoves

By William J. Keep

FROM earliest times wood has been used as a fuel and charcoal might easily have been made by accident. In ancient times smiths used fossil coal and peat was also known. Explorations in Pompeii show that the Roman method of heating a room in the first century was by burning charcoal in a brazier, the vapor escaping through windows and doors. In 1290 A.D., “and-irons,” also called “handirons,” firedogs and cobirons, for hearths, on which wood was burned, are mentioned in an assessment made at Colchester, England. Coal might have been obtained in abundance in England but the prejudice against its use was so great, it being thought the fumes of combustion contaminated the
air and injured the health, that in 1306 a law was passed prohibiting its use in London, making it a capital offence. In the reign of Edward I a man was executed for violating this law. It was not
until the latter part of the sixteenth century that coal began to be used in open grates. Its value commercially, however, was appreciated long before by smiths, brewers, and other occupations requiring large quantities of fuel. The earliest mention of chimneys in England seems to be in the year 1347.

The first stoves were made of clay or brick and were without chimney connection or ventilation from the inside. They were fired with wood through the outside walls of the house. These were succeeded by iron stoves, but how early is not known, but iron stoves certainly were cast at Alsace in 1475. In the Mid- Ages iron was hammered but not cast until after 1400. Stoves were in use in Northern and Central Europe long before they appeared in England.

The first settlers in New England found here a colder climate than in England, and the extensive woodlands supplying ample fuel large fireplaces in their dwellings were a natural consequence. An eight-foot fireplace was common in the early days, and the back log was a huge stick, usually hauled to the kitchen door by horses or oxen. Once kindled the fire was rarely allowed to go out especially during the winter season.

Although these large fireplaces contained hot fires, most of the heat passed up the chimney, and the parts of the room most removed from the fire would be far from comfortable on a cold winter’s day. One household economy resulted, however, in that the light from the flames in fireplaces was generally so bright that candles were not required for the ordinary work of the family.

This hearth-fire was not only used for heating, but for cooking, by placing the food to be cooked on the hearth in front of the fire or by skewering it to spits resting on brackets attached to the backs of the andirons. The huge kettles suspended over the fire were used to boil meats and vegetables and to heat water for the needs of the household, and the brick oven, with its opening in the brick wall, in a back corner of the fireplace, was used to bake bread, beans, pies, cakes, etc., etc. With some reduction in the size and the improvement of bringing the opening to the brick oven outside the fireplace and supplying it with a separate flue connecting with the chimney, these early conditions existed very generally in New England until well after the year 1800.

The first departure in America from the open fireplace, built of stone or brick, was the castiron fireplace invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1742. These were cast at Warwick blast furnace, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. This fireplace was sold in New England soon after its invention, and its use became common. In appearance it resembled a modified fireplace projecting somewhat into the room and because of that the castiron radiated more heat and thereby was a great improvement over the common recessed fireplace. Later. this type of fireplace was set out into tile room and by means of a funnel was connected with the smoke flue on the chimney. The portable place then became a stove.

The Germans, who settled in Pennsylvania in the first half of the eighteenth century, soon set up charcoal blast furnaces and made the kind of castiron stoves they had made in Germany. They were called “Five-Plate” or “Jamb Stoves,” and were made tip of two sides, a back, a bottom, and a top, the whole bolted together. Three sizes were made, the largest weighing about 450 pounds and selling at about $5 each. These stoves were built into the wall of the brick or stone house or placed against the back of the fireplace in the chimney. They were about two feet high, two feet wide and projected into the room about two feet. There were no legs. They were generally called “German Stoves” and were made until about 1768. These Pennsylvania Germans were also making six-plate, castiron box stoves as early as 1760. These were constructed in principle like all modern American house-heating stoves, standing free from the wall, on iron legs, with fuel door, and stove pipe attached at the top. They were not invented in America as they had been in use in Europe for a long time.

Doctor Mercer, in his Bible in Iron, expresses the opinion that this type of stove was introduced into America “by way of English ownership of American furnaces, through England, where the six-plate stove had been introduced probably by the middle of the 18th century.” As early as 1761, they were known as “Six-plate English Stoves,” at the Warwick, Pa., furnace and elsewhere. Franklin, however, calls them “Holland stoves” in the pamphlet described his fireplace which was printed in 1744.

The six-plate stove was soon superseded by the ten-plate stove which contained an oven and could be used for cooking as well as heating. It had a large oven door on one or both sides. This stove appeared about 1765. The internal, rectangular oven was inserted in the stove box, over the fire, so as to permit the heat to pass entirely around it and leave the stove through the smoke pipe set in the front end of the top plate. The front plate had a fuel door at the bottom and a small door, near the top, for clearing the soot from the top of the oven. The stove was bolted together generally with three, sometimes with five, vertical outside bolts, in the fashion of the older stoves. This type of cooking and heating stove was made at a number of Pennsylvania iron furnaces and soon had a wide distribution. Castiron stoves, round and square, were in use in New York as early as 1752.*

The Thomas Maybury ten-plate stove of 1767, so far as known, is the most perfect specimen of this kind of stove now in existence. This type of stove was used as an auxiliary to the open fireplace and the brick oven and we have no information indicating that it was improved upon for nearly fifty years. It was cast by Thomas Maybury at Hereford, Bucks County, Pa. The oven in this stove was 5 3/4 inches high, 10 1/4 inches wide and 17 1/2 inches depth. This was the small size as larger stoves were made. As no cement was used where the iron plates jointed together there must have been much leakage of smoke. Later, when rolled sheet iron came into use and stoves made from it, they were called “air-tight stoves.” The ten-plate stove did not provide for frying or boiling by means of direct contact of utensils with the fire through openings in the top, provided with removable covers, but it could bake meat, bread, pies, etc., on a small scale and so replaced, in part, the brick oven in the fireplace. Few greater changes took place in the American household than when the open kitchen fire was replaced by wood and coal burning cooking stoves.

The first satisfactory cooking stove in the United States was the James stove, made and sold in Troy, N. Y., patented April 26, 1815, by William T. James of Union Village, N. Y., near the Vermont line. This apparently was the stove known as the “Baltimore cook stove,” with the hearth and firedoors placed on the side. Seven years later he patented the sunk hearth for the reception of ashes, which has been in general use ever since. When the lower doors of his stove were opened and swung back, the fire was as open as in many small Franklin stoves and when the oven doors were thrown open the heat from the open plates heated the room. The jogs at the sides and into the oven allowed boiling to be done in small kettles which rested by their rims.

The open fire was used for the heavy boiling. By swinging out the crane, with its dangling pot hooks and trammels, pots could be hung on and taken off without much lifting. The women of the kitchen did all of the lifting of kettles, on and off the fire. The James stove was afterwards made in various towns in New England, also in New York City and in Philadelphia and this stove continued to be the leading cook stove for nearly a quarter of a century and later still was used on board small coasting schooners and sloops.

There was a general effort made among stove makers to produce a cooking stove with low-down boiling holes that would take the pots which hung in the fireplace. In 1823, John Conant of Brandon, Vt., lowered the jogs so as to bring the pots lower down. Conant had invented a stove in 1819 and made the first one from castings obtained at a furnace located at Pittford, Vt. The next year he erected a furnace at Brandon and here was cast the first stove made in the state—the wonder of the farmers’ kitchen. The pleasant old fireplace with its swinging crane of well-filled pots and kettles, hearth spiders with legs, and bake kettles and tin bakers to stand before the blazing logs and bake custard pies in, all went down at once and disappeared before this stove without so much as a passing struggle. Stoves with ovens, but without boilers, had been made previously, to some extent, and supplied by the Troy, N. Y., maker who had his castings made in Philadelphia.
The Conant stove had an oven over the fire, with a door at both ends, the front one being over the fire door. This stove was an imitation, though an improvement, of the James stove made in Troy. In those days inventors worked independently of each other. Means of communication were so poor that one invention may not have been known outside the immediate neighborhood where it was used. Unfortunately more than half of the records of inventions of this period are lost and we must content ourselves with what we have of record together with traditionary information.
The increasing demand for low-down boiling holes resulted in the Premium or step stove, invented in 1829 by David White of Philadelphia. He must have obtained his idea from the trundle bed used for children, which rolled under the parents’ bed during the daytime. The stove was a square box containing an open grate with a high ash pit. By turning down the front an open fire was obtained. The whole top of the stove seems to have been given over to boiling on the two tops and on the back top baking also could be done in a tin portable oven behind or by a reflector in front. The final development of the Premium stove contained an oven, with flues under and over it, but all smoke went directly upward. These stoves, without any change, have had a continued sale and thousands are now sold each year in the South and used in shacks for the reason that they will always draw and require no particular skill to use.
In 1831, Thomas Woolson of Claremont, N. H., patented another type of cooking stove known as the Elevated Oven Stove. It was a flat-top stove with the oven at the side of the fire box. The heat was supposed to pass over and around the oven. The castings for these stoves were made at a furnace in Brandon, Vt. More than six thousand of them were sold. At the time they were introduced the farmers said they didn’t burn half wood enough, but when they were superseded by an improved stove, the complaint was that they burned too much wood.
A sheet iron stove, with an elevated oven, was made about 1832-1833 by Thomas Woolson, which he called “The Yankee Notion,” and which led the way for all elevated oven stoves.

In 1832, Henry Stanley of Poultney, Vt., invented a stove with a rotary lowdown top which was popular for many years. It was called a “Revolving Cook Stove” and different parts of the circular top could be turned so as to rest immediately over the fire box. A number of similar stoves were patented after that by others.

The stoves thus far considered have been wood burners. The large fire box of the ten-plate stove and of the James stove required a considerable fire to burn well as the sticks of wood had a tendency to fall apart as they burned. Any stove with a fire directly under the oven was a poor baker and a poor boiler, therefore the fire box received early attention. Various experiments and improvements were developed until P. P. Stewart manufactured at Troy, N.Y., in 1838, his well-known stoves. The rolling apart of the sticks of wood, as they burned, suggested to him inclining the sides of the fire box so that the sticks would automatically roll to the bottom. By keeping these sticks together he could not only cook well but obtain more heat. He made a grate and a shallow ash pit and also made hinges for the sides of the fire box to be used when coal was burned, all of which proved so satisfactory that the method and construction evolved by him has been the standard ever since that time.
It was not until 1851 that Mr. Stewart adopted a shaking grate which seems to indicate that coal was not generally in use as a fuel for cooking much before that time. Previous to that his grate was stationary and in burning coal it was then necessary to lift all clinkers out through the covers when the fire was out. As the ash pit was only three inches deep ashes accumulated rapidly and the grate burned out very often but the stove held its own in the market for many years. The period, however when the greatest improvements were made in cooking and heating stoves was between 1853 and 1873.
The fireplaces and stoves that have been described seem crude and imperfect when compared with the coal, gas, oil and electric systems of today—the product of Yankee invention of the last seventy-five years—but they served the needs of a less critical time and who shall say that New Englanders were then less satisfied with their homes than in these days of modern improvements.

List of American Patents on Cooking Stoves 1790-1836

A fire in the United States Patent Office, in July, 1836, destroyed nearly all the records of the Office, from 1790 to 1836, but it was able to publish in one volume, the names of inventors and the titles and dates of their patents.

William T. James Union Village. N. Y., April 26. 1815

Charles Posley , New York. April 26. 1815

Christopher Hoxie, Hudson, N. Y.- May 3, 1816

John Conant, Brandon, Vt., 1819

N. Winslow, Portland Me. May 23, 1820

John Conant, Brandon, Vt. Dec. 13. 1823

David Little, Hagerstown, Md., Feb. 1, 1826

Peregren Williamson, Philadelphia, Feb. 16, 1829

Joseph Hurd Jr., Boston, Nov. 10, 1829 (With reflector)

William Davis and R. W. Lord, New York, Nov. 23, 1829 (for coal)

James Jennings, New York, May 14, 1830

Lewis and Peter Peterson, Pittsburgh Pa., May 29, 1830

Thomas Woolson, Claremont, N. H., July 20, 1831

William Goddard, Portsmouth, N. H., Oct. 12, 1831 (portable oven)

Powell Stackhouse, Philadelphia, Dec. 22, 1831

Horace Bartlett, Bridgeport, Conn., May 12. 1832

David Gastner, New York, July 11, 1832 (coal)

Henry Stanley, Poultney, Vt., Dec. 17, 1832 (revolving)

Elisha Town, Montpelier, Vt., Dec. 16, 1833

Abram D. Spoor, Coxackie, N. Y., March 15, 1834

John Harriman, Haverhill. Mass., March 31, 1834

Elisha Town, Montpelier, Vt., May 16, 1834 (rotary)

Horace Bartlett, Carmel, N. Y., Aug. 1, 1834

Carrington Wilson, New York, Oct. 10, 1834

Henry W. Camp, Oswego, N. Y., Oct. 14. 1834

Whitson & I Hayne, Roxbury, Mass., Nov. 19, 1834 (a tin baker)

Sylvester Parker, Troy, N.Y., Jan. 16, 1835

Joel Rathbone, Albany, N. Y., March 6, 1835

Isaac McNavy, Stafford, Conn., March 24, 1835 (Franklin cook)

Eliphalet Nott, Schenectady, N. Y., April 22, 1835 (range for coal)

Bean & Skinner, Sandwich, N. H., June 12, 1835 (Fireplace cook)

Joseph Snyder, Philadelphia, June 12, 1835 (Franklin cook)

Whiting & Means, Boston, Sept. 9, 1835 (Ventilated oven)

Ezekiel Dabol, N. Canaan, Conn., Sept. 26, 1835

Elnathan Samson, Pierpont, N. Y., Oct. 10, 1835 ( Parlor cook)

Denison Olmstead, New Haven, Conn., Oct. 14, 1835 (fireplace)

Daniel Southerland, Lisbon, Me. Oct. 31, 1835 ( fireplace )

Benninigton Gill, New York, Dec. 9, 1835 (rotary)

R. G. Cochran, Francestown, N. H., Feb. 3, 1836

W. A. Arnold, Northampton, Mass., June 16, 1836

P. F. Perry, Rockingham, Vt., June 28, 1836

Nathan Winslow, Portland, Me., July 2, 1836

Editorial NOTE. Much of the information concerning cast-iron stoves to be found in this article, has been taken from a History of Castiron Stoves, written by William J. Keep, still in manuscript and now preserved in the library of the Business Historical Society in Cambridge, Mass. It is here printed through the courteous permission of that Society.

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