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Friday, January 13, 2012

An Argument for Fuel-Saving, 1832

I found this an interesting article -- written by the 'progressive' editors of a farmers' magazine in Western New York State (a.k.a. "The Burned-Over District") to try to persuade their readers of the benefits of stove use.  This is a pretty consistent line in agricultural journalism from the early 1820s, i.e. just about as early as there was any such thing as ag. journalism.  One of the important avenues down which the message of modernity reached rural readers.  Nice quotes highlighted.

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[Editors -- N. Goodsell, A.Gordon], "Fuel," Genessee Farmer 2:49 (8 Dec. 1832): 383,

FUEL. There are certain seasons for introducing different subjects to our readers, when we hope they will feel more interest in them than they would at other times; and these, by editors like ourselves, who only expect to avoid being termed "absolutely dull," should, never be neglected. ...  So, with the present subject, we know of no time more proper than the present for introducing it, and none when, what little we have to say, will be more likely to be remembered.

In the first number of the present volume, we attempted to give a table showing the relative value of different kinds of fuel made use of in the United States; and also the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods of burning the various kinds for the purpose of heating dwelling houses; to which table we beg leave to refer our readers, or that part of them who received the first numbers during the summer, when the article alluded to might have been past over without a fair perusal. [see note at end]

By that table, it appears that nine tenths of the heat generated in the combustion of fuel in the common fire place is lost. There is a kind of traditional lethargy prevailing in the country on the subject of fuel, which our large towns and cities are more free from; and we are strongly inclined to believe, that it costs the same number of families more to warm their dwellings in the country, where wood is not worth more than one
dollar per cord, than it does in our cities, where it is worth eight or ten dollars.

Were an article to be advertised which would not cost more than from ten to fifteen dollars, simple in its construction and use, and which would last an age, and the public be assured that it would save nine tenths of the expenses of a family for bread, how readily would people purchase it. Now the saving qualities of such an article would be very like a Stove, which many refuse to purchase because they cannot see the fire when it is burning within it. For the accommodation of those people who have such a taste for looking in the fire, (because it saves them the trouble of thinking) we wish some Yankee would invent a representation of a hearth fire, which might be hung up in the room for these mutes to gaze upon.

There are many who through neglect increase the quantity of fuel consumed in an unwarrantable degree. First, their cellars are not sufficiently secured against the frost by banking, caulking &c. by which neglect their vegetables are frozen and lost; and the cold air thus admitted finds its way to every part of the building. Others, who, while they are attentive to their cellars, neglect every other part from the cellar to the garret; their windows, if not broken, are not caulked; their doors are not listed -- and when reminded of their neglect by their neighbors, take refuge under the old adage, that "a free circulation of air is necessary to health" -- then why not stay out of doors entirely?

We wish to have our farmers enter into some mathematical calculation upon the subject of warming habitations, making it a matter of dollars and cents, putting down time as money, and divesting themselves of the idea that a person cannot be warmed without seeing the fire, for it is as ridiculous as it would be to say he could not be cooled without seeing the wind.

[NOTE: The reference is to the editors' article "Relative Value of Fuel," Genesee Farmer 2:1 (7 Jan. 1832), p. 2,

"In a climate like ours, fuel is so absolutely necessary, that any calculations respecting the price, relative value, or mode of using it, will at once be considered as coming under the head of Domestic Economy, and we presume will be acceptable to most of our readers."

They reprinted the findings of Marcus Bull's famous Philadelphia experiments a decade earlier, which concluded that an open fireplace lost 90 percent of the heating value of its fuel up the chimney -- for which see Marcus Bull, Experiments to  Determine the Comparative Value  of  the Principal Varieties  of  Fuel  Used in the United States, and also in Europe.  And on the Ordinary Apparatus Used for their Combustion (Philadelphia: Judah Dobson, 1827), ]

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