In a previous version of my website, I wrote an article about wood-burning stoves.  That text has long disappeared from here, but search engines continue to direct seekers to my website in response to the word “stove.”  So, here once again, is my tribute to the heart of the home.

 

The Humble Kitchen Stove
     When woman first began cooking inside the cave, she used an open fire and a stick to sizzle the venison.  Man liked the results and over the centuries applied his ingenuity to improving the techniques used to render the result of his hunt into palatable victuals.
In medieval castles and hovels the size and decoration of the cooking fire  varied, but the science was the same.  Build a big fire to produce heat, build a chimney to vent the smoke, hang pots over the fire for cooking.  Western civilization continued with this basic concept right up until the eighteenth century when, in 1735 a French architect by the name of Franççois Cuvilliéés, designed a completely enclosed fire with fireholes covered by perforated iron plates.  This Castrol stove was much more fuel-efficient and allowed the cook to simmer her soups and stews in relative safety without fear of embers from the fireplace shooting out and burning her.  Toward the end of the century the Castrol stove was refined by hanging the pots through the fireholes, allowing for heating on three sides instead of just one.
One of the biggest leaps in the technology of home heating came with the invention of the Franklin stove, named after its inventor, Benjamin Franklin.   Intended primarily for home heat the Franklin stove used a labyrinth system of baffles and plates to circulate the air through the stove giving us both radiant and convection heat.  The front of the stove was still open, like the conventional fireplace, but the top of the heater was flat and allowed for cooking with flat-bottomed pots and pans.  Another step in the evolution of the kitchen.  Previous to this, cooking was done in round bottomed cauldrons.

As an aside, did you know that Benjamin Franklin put all of his inventions into the public domain, refusing to file patents or to collect royalties?

    In North America, where winters were long and severe, foundries everywhere turned out variations on Franklin’s stove.  Pot-bellied stoves, Quebec heaters, box stoves and dumb stoves proliferated in every home, taking the place of the inefficient fireplace.  Although a round-bellied stove glowing red with heat wasn’t as romantic as a blazing open fire it was essential for warding off freezing temperatures inside as well as out. Martha Louise Black, a veteran of many Yukon winters vowed she’d never been so cold as when trying to keep warm over a grate fire in England during World War One.  The fire barely took the chill off the room and “was a criminal waste of fuel, too, as most of the heat went up the chimney.  Our little Klondyke stoves could have warmed the rooms with half the fuel. ” Below is pictured a Quebec heater such as Mrs. Black might have used in her own home.

Quebec Stove

Quebec Stove

Nineteenth century ingenuity resulted in some odd  forms of heating. In 1888 the US Patent Office issued a patent for a corn-cob burning stove.  Since it was considered inappropriate to place stoves in meeting houses during the early 1800’s, preachers carried a little foot stove with them as they travelled from service to service.  The box, about 12″ x 12″ by 8″ high was filled with burning embers, fitted with a handle and used to keep the preacher’s feet warm both in the pulpit and in the sleigh as he travelled on to the next service.  Portable tin ovens were used by the military in the field and by prospectors rushing to the latest gold strike.
But, back to the harried homemaker bending over the hot stove.  At the turn of the nineteenth century, Benjamin Thompson produced one of the first metal kitchen stoves, called the Rumford.  Pots were still hung inside the firebox through the fireholes and the heat on each pot could be regulated..  Sadly for the humble housewife, the Rumford stove was designed for castle kitchens only.  It wasn’t until 1834 that Steward Oberlin patented a compact iron stove and revolutionized the North American kitchen.  Refinements on Oberlin’s basic design added cooking ovens, water heaters and warming ovens, bringing us to the beauties that sat in our grandmother’s kitchen and for which I pine on long days when the electricity goes off.

Klondyke Stove

Klondyke Stove

Note the ornate chrome work.  The stove was a work of art as well as an essential element to comfort.

Modern refinements on the wood stove have added catalytic converters to reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of combustion.  Construction materials include soapstone, ceramics and glass as well as iron and steel and those of us who’ve endured a loss of power on a cold winter’s day are leading the charge to resurrect the humble kitchen stove – even if it lives in a forgotten corner of the basement most of the time.

Sources:  Black, Martha Louise  My Ninety Years  Alaska Northwest Publishing Co. Anchorage, Alaska, 1976
Curtis, Will and Jane, Antique Woodstoves, Artistry in Iron, Star Press, Kenebeck Maine, 1975
http://collectionscanada.ca

http://www.canadian-antique-stoves.com/Z-kootenay1910.htm