The Stove: Wherever Did it Come From?
by Marjorie Dorfman
When did the art of food preparation by fire actually begin? How did that evolve into the one appliance that no one in the world today ever does without? Read on for some hot flashes on a very old matter.
Men and women have always been smart enough to come in out of the cold and warm themselves by the fire. When preparing dinner by the fire became included in the process is anyones guess, but surely it must have occurred somewhere around that same time. Whether warmth emanated from a campfire, tent or teepee, according to many archaeologists, the very first stoves were open structures composed of natural stones. The first historical record of one being built occurred in 1490, in Alsace, France. It was made entirely of brick and tile, including the flue.
The closed in brick stove did not make an appearance until the 18th century. About that same time it acquired a chimney and became smoke free for the first time. Benjamin Franklin invented the iron furnace stove or "Franklin Stove" as it has come to be called. It was a small device with a sliding door, which burned wood on a grate, thus allowing the cooking of food and heating of the house at the same time. (Records are not available to indicate how many early users ended up cooking, heating and burning their houses down at the same time!)
Benjamin Franklin was a genius by anyones standards, but he made a big mistake with his invention. He designed his stove so that the smoke came out of the bottom. He thought that in this manner, it would produce more heat. Although the idea was sound, the concept was wrong. Franklin did not realize that hot air rises (never having ever spent any time in Texas, some parts of Europe and other inflated territories). He failed also to consider that the smoke would have to be eliminated via a pipe placed above the stove with access to the outside. The stove was later redesigned by David R. Rittenhouse and was in wide use by the 1790s.
Jordan Mott invented the first practical coal stove in 1833. It was called the "baseburner" and it was ventilated so that the coal would burn efficiently. Over the years, it became cylindrical and was constructed of heavy cast-iron with a hole in the top, which was then enclosed by an iron ring. A kettle was usually kept on top of it. Generally, the coal stove was more compact than the wood stove, making it easier to transport. Coal could be made extremely hot and it produced less ash. The problem of cleanliness, however, would not be resolved until the gas stoves of a later time. Like the wood stove, coal could be left burning for long periods of time and served the dual purpose of cooking and keeping a room warm.
During the Victorian Age, cast-iron technology was in its heyday, as indicated by the ornamentation of the coal stoves in vogue at the time. These machines are lavish and intricate in design, simulating the architecture of castles, churches and European villas. They remain as some of the finest examples of casting known today.
The Carpenter Electric Heating Manufacturing Company invented an electric stove in 1891. On June 30,1896, William Hadaway was issued the very first patent for one. He went on to design the first toaster in 1910, a horizontal combination toastercooker manufactured by Westinghouse. Due to the long integration of electricity supplies and the high initial expense, it took some time for these stoves to be common among households. It was not until the late 1920s that electric stoves began to compete with gas stoves. They became more popular because they were easier to clean, cheaper, more efficient to use and had automatic temperature controls. In some ways, the electric stove took the craftsmanship out of cooking, making saving time and money more important than a meal lovingly and painstakingly prepared.
The paraffin (kerosene) stove first appeared in 1892, when a Swede by the name of Frans Wilheim Lindqvist, registered the patent for his "Sootless Kerosene Stove". It burned paraffin gas, which was vaporized from the liquid fuel into tubes, which formed the burner head. The design was so successful that a company named Primus was established to manufacture the stove. Soon the name of the company became synonymous with any type of pressure camping stove, especially after the climbers of Mt Everest and the explorers of the South Pole popularized them. (Perhaps even the elusive Yeti warmed his big footsies by the warmth of one of these).
The basic burner design was copied by manufacturers all over the world, many even adopting the same numerical system designated by burner size and style. This variation in models is appealing to stove collectors as some prefer to find one model from many different manufacturers and others prefer every model from a single manufacturer. (Whatever floats your boat, or stove, or something like that.)
British inventor, James Sharp patented a gas stove in 1826, which was the first of its kind to appear on the market. By the 1920s, they were found in most households for they solved the problem of both cleanliness and space at the same time. It was usually in the form of a windowed, vertical cylinder made of thin steel. It could have up to four burners and sometimes contained an oven as well. Its one disadvantage (and fortunately this occurred before the age of television) was that the flames on the burners had to be watched very closely. (Hard to do when you are watching your favorite show.) If the flames suddenly turned from blue to red and yellow, the room would soon fill up with black smoke, leave a residue on everything it came into contact with and, generally speaking, make it a good idea for whoever lived there to think about moving.
Gas stoves were also costly and this meant that the house had to be heated by other means. Its increased expense also made it more practical to cook quick, already prepared meals (enter almost the frozen /TV dinner). It was still a preferred invention, however, due to the fact that gas stoves offered an infinite variety of flame sizes and temperatures.
And so my friends, we are about to end this unscientific and completely subjective expose on the subject of the kitchen stove. I could go and on for a little while longer at least, but I smell something burning. I better check it out. Otherwise, I might soon be in the market for a new house as well as a new stove!
Did you know . . .