Total Pageviews

Friday, January 11, 2013

Gardner Chilson, Furnace Inventor & Target of Bad Verse {t.b.c.}

From James T.S. Lidstone, The Bostoniad: Giving a Full Description of the Principal Establishments, together with the Most Honorable and Substantial Business Men in the Athens of America (Boston: "Published under Universal Patronage," 1853), p. 26 --

CHILSON, RICHARDSON & CO. 51 & 53 Blackstone Street, Boston. Also, CHILSON, RICHARDSON & CO., No. 374 Broadway, New York.

Chilson's Patent World's Fair Prize Medal FURNACE!

"In Manufactures they excelled all others in that part of the earth and their power extended far over into other lands." [De Esmoridan's "History of Venice."]

For every manly worth and enterprise
He is the example, 'neath these western skies;
His high intelligence is known
Where human foot hath trod or gone,
Look thro' the Canadas—afar
To the dominions of Czar,
You'll see our inventor's fame unfurled
For the best Furnace in the world,
For Dwellings, Churches, and for Schools,
All inventions it o'er rules,
For Academies and Halls of State
It stands triumphant and elate—
Is used on many distant shores
For Hospitals, Court Houses, Stores.
He prizes won full many a time
At Fairs, throughout Columbia's clime,
At the World's Fair, in Albion's Isle,
Triumphs still upon him smile,
For there, with all the Nations round,
Chilson was with laurels crowned;
There, from every Sovereign State,
Did sterling minds investigate,
Tho' rigidly severe the test,
They proclaimed it far the best—
The purest triumph yet ere won,
Graced the high career of Chilson.

Gardner Chilson (1804-1877) deserved better than the above slab of doggerel.  He was born in Thompson, in the north-east corner of Connecticut, and died in Mansfield, Massachusetts -- less than fifty miles away; but Chilson had gone a long way in between.  He "[b]egan poor" [Greene & Forbes, The Rich Men of Massachusetts, 1851, p. 21], received a public-school education, and then became an apprentice cabinet-maker in Sterling, about thirty miles south, where he also did some pattern-making, "which may be regarded as the foundation of the stove trade." [Sherman S. Jewett, "President's Address," NASM Convention Proceedings 7, Jan. 1878, p. 15.]  On completing his apprenticeship and reaching his majority, i.e. in about 1826, he moved another thirty miles south-east, to Providence, Rhode Island, where he got a job as "carver" to a stove dealer, Asa Eames, and quickly developed "an aptitude for the construction of improved stoves."  Ten years later, when the market for stoves and the rate of improvement in products were close to their all-time peak growth-rates, Chilson seized his opportunity and moved fifty miles north-east to Boston to set up in business for himself, opening a small tin and stove store on Blackstone Street.  "He had no money but he did have indomitable energy, courage and inventive genius."  [Copeland, Every Day But Sunday, 1936, p. 149.]

These are perhaps just conventional terms of approval -- tropes of Victorian entrepreneurial biographies.  What distinguished Chilson from many other ambitious artisans joining the booming stove trade was not so much his character as the commitment to innovation and specialization that his career demonstrated, as well as its success.  As his obituary from a colleague in the trade admiringly reported, "he never allowed himself to be forced to confess that his goods were inferior by continually claiming that they were the cheapest."  [Jewett 1878, p. 15]  His plan was to compete on quality, not price.  He entered products into competition at the First Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association at Faneuil Hall in September of 1837, and won a Diploma for his "Cooking Stoves, for wood or coal, of different patterns and sizes, and a Franklin Parlor Coal Stove, arrangement very simple, castings neat,--excellent for wood, and pretty good for coal." [p. 18], the first of a succession of local, national, and international awards he would collect over the next several decades.

"Coal" in Boston mostly meant Pennsylvania anthracite, shipped around the coast from Philadelphia and New York.  In his second year in business, Chilson began to make and sell the most expensive appliances designed to burn it, warm-air furnaces for the basements of upper-middle-class homes and various institutional settings.  He would become more closely associated with perfecting these products than he was with any of the rest of the wide range of cooking and heating appliances that he designed, patented, built, and sold.  (The only figures we have say that he sold less than a thousand stoves in 1837, and just 30 furnaces in 1838; by 1851, the numbers were about 500 furnaces from about 10,000 stoves -- George Adams, The Massachusetts Register: A State Record for the Year 1852,Containing a Business Directory of the State [Boston: Author, 1852], p. 325.)

In the beginning, he worked in partnership with John A. Page, the inventor of a patent furnace "For Heating Air and Warming Apartments" [U.S. Patent 2269, 1841], which they improved further together, winning a Diploma at the Third Exhibition of the MCMA in the same month as the patent was issued [p. 63].  But by 1845 Chilson was patenting new and more radically improved devices in his own name.

{t.b.c. }

Gardner Chilson's Ad for His Advanced Furnace --
Nahum Capen, ed.,
The Massachusetts State Record & Year Book of General Information, Vol. IV 1850
(Boston: James French, 1850),  unpaginated advertising matter,

This is probably the most detailed statement about Chilson's work -- most likely an "advertorial":

George Adams,The Massachusetts Register: A State Record for the Year 1852, Containing a Business Directory of the State (Boston: Author, 1852),


Any middle-aged man can remember the introduction of Anthracite Coal, and the cost of fuel before it, and he may easily calculate what would have been the cost of wood sufficient to create the same degree of heat all over his house, which he now considers a necessary comfort of life. With Anthracite Coal came various contrivances and experiments for the best mode of using it; and the result is, that from Open Fire Places, the gas escapes into the room, affects the lips, the skin and the lungs, and is unpleasant and unhealthful. Then to remedy the bad effects of the gas in the rooms, and to economize in fuel, Stoves were invented of various plans and forms for burning it, which at the present day forms no small branch of the industry of our State.

Some idea may be formed of the steady increase in the manufacture and sale of Stoves from the fact that from one house alone in Boston, that of Messrs. CHILSON, RICHARDSON & Co., (formerly GARDNER CHILSON,) nearly 10,000 Stoves are sold annually; while in 1837, the number of Stoves sold by Mr. Chilson did not exceed 1,000. Notwithstanding the great economy in fuel by the use of stoves over open fire places, yet it was found necessary for comfort and health to have a stove placed in each room and passage, else in passing from a warm to a cold room health was endangered. But the trouble and expense of a stove and fire for each room is attended with many serious objections, and to remove these objections Furnaces were invented to warm with one fire the whole house This mode of warming by Furnaces has met with great favor, especially those of the most approved construction.

In 1838 the number of Furnaces sold by Mr. Chilson did not exceed 30, but as with Stoves, so there has also been a steadily increasing demand for Furnaces. The number of Furnaces manufactured and sold by Messrs. Chilson, Richardson and Co., the past year, amounts to 500.  Although it is but a few years since the introduction of Furnaces, yet an entire change in the principle, construction and character of the heat generated by them, has been successfully accomplished by Mr. Chilson, from that of the common cast iron cylinder pot furnace, to those constructed on the most scientific principle for securing the greatest amount of heat from the fuel consumed; producing a fresh, healthful, warm atmosphere throughout the buildings ; and insuring great durability without liability of repairs. Another important object has been secured in the construction of this kind of furnace, and plan of setting it, which is that of preventing the possibility of firing the buildings in which they are placed.

Mr. Chilson has undoubtedly given more attention to the important subject of the invention of warming and ventilating apparatus, than any other individual in the country. His inventions are based on strictly scientific principles, which govern the elements of air and heat in harmony with the laws of nature.

A great error has pervaded the form of the apparatus for burning Anthracite Coal in stoves and furnaces hitherto used, and the latter in particular, in which the fire pot containing the fuel was a long iron cylinder, and set permanently in its brick walls. The necessary consequences were, that the coal was confined in a deep, compact bed, presenting the least possible surface for radiation, and in the worst possible position for combustion ; so that a given quantity of fuel gave out the least possible heat, and made the most possible waste in clinkers, and,c. Then the red hot coals came in contact with the iron pot, and made that red hot also; and as the coals were the hottest in the centre, so was the iron pot, and being unequally heated, it necessarily was unequally expanded, and more at the centre than above or below it This unequal expansion of parts necessarily cracked the pot, and through the cracks the poisonous gas escaped into the air- chamber, and thence passed into the house, thus destroying health and comfort.

And all this was the consequence of the actions of the unscientific fire-pot.  Its own action necessarily destroyed itself, and at the same time cracked and warped the plates and joints of the furnace about the fire-pot; and the only remedy was to remove the brick work, take out the cracked pot and plates, and put in new ones, and rebuild the brick work. The consequence was a public belief that Furnaces poisoned the air of a house, and consumed themselves, and thus cost health and money.  The general reputation of furnaces for a long time were based upon such conclusions.

But a new era came with CHILSON'S FURNACE. Mr. Chilson made a new fire- pot on an entirely new principle, conforming to, instead of opposing, the natural laws. The old fire-pot was deep, he made his shallow ; the old was narrowest at the top, the new is the broadest ; the old fire- pot was a cylinder much taller than it was broad, the new one has an open flaring basin, much broader than it is tall ; the old fire-pot held its heated coals against the sides of the iron pot, the new is lined with soap-stone, which prevents the hot coals from touching the iron of the fire-pot. The natural result of Mr Chilson's invention is, that his fire-pot presents the broadest possible radiating surface, and holds the coal in a shallow bed, through every part of which the air passes freely, and furnishes the most perfect combustion. The logical deduction derived from this is, that from a given quantity of coal the most possible heat combined with the least possible waste is obtained.

Then, as the fire-pot never expands unequally or materially, it never cracks, and there being no escape of gas into the air-chamber or the house, the fire-pot will last a life-time. The arrangement of this Furnace in its parts above the fire-pot, is also such as to prevent the intense action of the heat from warping or cracking any part of it, and there is therefore no burnt iron heat coming from the furnace or fire-pot, and no escape of coal gas into the air-chamber. All the evils of old furnaces are thus removed. The new furnaces are made healthful and economical, one fire only being necessary to fill many rooms and large buildings with a salubrious atmosphere.

The best recommendation of the invention is its own experience. It has by its utility been spread all over the country, and by the use of scientific principles in its construction, it has won the commendation of scientific men, who saw at once the reasons of its efficiency. This Furnace has received the first premium of all the principal Fairs in America, among which one Gold Medal, three Silver Medals, besides numerous Diplomas, are on record.

At the World's Fair it gained the PRIZE MEDAL, and plans of its construction were engraved and printed in the Illustrated Catalogue of the Fair, and its Secretary testifies, under his own signature, that "this compliment was paid to no other article in the American exhibition unsolicited." So favorable has been the impression produced by this Furnace, that its proprietors contemplate sending a special agent across the Atlantic to superintend the important and growing branch of their business in that country. Its use in England was begun by the EARL OF CARNAVAN. in his lordly castle, and it will carry increased comfort into the homes of the English people.

This but adds to the substantial evidence already adduced, that American skill and enterprise is justly appreciated and acknowledged abroad.

-- o -- 

Another Chilson ad. -- from John R. Chapin,
The Historical Picture Gallery of Scenes and Incidents in American History, Vol. 5
(Boston: D. Bigelow & Co., 1856), p. 17,