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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Pioneer Cooking Stove, Indiana, late 1830s

I'm quite fond of this article, not simply because it is such a good retrospective account of the coming of the new technology to a midwestern frontier community in (probably) the late 1830s or early 1840s, but also because it is one of the first things I came across, years ago, when I was beginning to discover how much online resources would enrich my knowledge of the history of the stove and its users.  The Making of America project was one of the first really good historical text archives.  Its coverage seems quite limited nowadays, but back before the development of Google Books and the Internet Archive it struck me as wonderful.

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'Ronald, of Indiana', "The Pioneer Cooking-Stove," The Ladies' Repository: a Monthly Periodical, Devoted to Literature, Arts, and Religion 17:1 (Jan. 1857), pp. 39-41,

[p. 39]  

DOES any body know when cooking-stoves began? Were they invented all at once, like bass-wood hams? or shall we answer these questions as Topsy did those involving her origin, "Don't know —spect they growed?" The first approach that I remember, was an anciently fashioned "ten-plate," with a place to boil a tea-kettle or receive a frying-pan. The idea thus suggested was subsequently developed, till, as we enjoy our patent, premium, air-tight, or combination, which can roast, bake, boil, broil, and stew all at once, we are convinced that this is truly a progressive age, and we a progressive people-progressive alike in compromises, constitutions, and cookery. 

Henry Schreiner of Philadelphia's "New Orleans Victory" Ten-Plate Stove, c. 1815-1830

Some of my fair readers may say, "No cookstoves! impossible! They never could get along without them." Softly, miss, just step over and ask your grandma. She will take pleasure in showing how breakfasts were done, and in cooking her dinners over again. She will tell you how she "baked her brains" over a roaring hickory fire--how she fretted about the oak wood, which would pop, snap, and smoke, but would not burn —how she was tried in temper by green beech, or a load of crooked limbs in harvest-time, till she raised a regular domestic row--how, fastened in the left side of the ample fireplace, was a "crane," with divers hooks of varied length, upon which were hung tea-kettle, stew-kettle, and mush-pot--how bread was baked for Sundays, rollings, huskings, quiltings, weddings, and infairs, in the brick-oven, and on smaller occasions in the Dutch-oven; and she will also tell you, what I honestly believe, that we have no such bread in these days. She will tell how johnnycake was baked on a board, hoe-cake on a hoe, and ash-cake in the ashes; also, what a sensation was produced when some cute Yankee brought out the polished tin reflector, which had most pleasing reflections, for they produced luscious pumpkin-pies and delicious, creamy biscuit -- such biscuit! I yet love to reflect upon those reflected biscuit--

They linger in my memory yet; 
Nor ever did their crust deceive me 

and how admirably it baked turkeys, and how "sound it was on the goose question." She will also tell how, when Christmas came on, the fatted turkey, after decapitation, plucking, and stuffing, was hung up before a rousing fire, by a string which was twisted round harder and harder, till the twist threw it back, and round again the other way, keeping up an impartial roasting and a "perpetual motion" on a small scale, while the dripping gravy was caught in a cup. 

And many other marvels will she also relate of the ante-cook-stove period, marvels to you as wonderful as the Arabian Nights, or the events in the life of Dred. Washing-day, for instance, was an institution then--the iron and copper kettles were carried out and swung in the shade of some willow or sycamore-tree, beside the "branch," where was plenty of soft-water. 

James "Saddlebag" Cooking Stove --
probably the biggest seller in New England and along the Northeast Seaboard, c. 1815-1825

But the cooking-stoves were invented. In an older state, and while living in town, we had owned the primitive article [see above illustration]; but when we moved to a newer state, and into the country, we did as others--cooked by the fireplace. But ever and anon came the ominous intimations of what could be done in the culinary department if there was only a cook-stove. The neighbors looked with suspicion and surprise upon such suggestions; they implied dissatisfaction with the lot Providence had assigned us, and then it was putting on city airs. If it came it would destroy primitive simplicity, introduce a new class of artificial wants, would bring in luxury which had already ruined quite a number of ancient notions, and might thus ultimately dissolve the Union. These were grave constitutional questions; but history records more than one instance in which the kitchen cabinet has triumphed over the fears of alarmists and the vox populi.*

* [Footnote] I think myself happy in having so formed this sentence as to get in this Latin. I fancy I see it in neat italics, and people looking upon it wonderingly, and saying, "What a scholar! Did he graduate at Yale?" Please don't tell them of the Dictionary of Quotations.
It stood firm; and soon an advocate appeared: near us lived a family of good neighbors--the "united head" of which had been Shakers, but had fled from "the village," because they thought it was "better to marry than to" stay there--the good ex-Shakeress said if her friends all died and left her to widowhood, it would be her last request to them to leave her a cooking-stove. Yet this only made the opposition stronger, for those who merely doubted before, were now convinced that if the Shakers used them, there could be no good in them. 

The discussion lasted several months, and took a wide range, including, in addition to the political aspect, economics, hygiene, and aesthetics, and was argued objectively, subjectively, synthetically, and analytically. But there was an energy in the kitchen cabinet no opposition could subdue —it prevailed; and it was agreed that the stove should [p. 40] come if the "Union had to slide". What sort it should be, where to get it, and how to bring it, were grave questions. The farm lay about sixty miles from the Queen City, and about forty-seven from the then young capital of our own state. [Which would place it in the neighborhood of Rushville]  The comparative advantages of the two points were duly considered, and decided in favor of the capital, much from the same reason which induces a man to employ a quack in preference to a good physician, because he belongs to his own Church.

The stove and its furniture were purchased, and wagoned the forty-seven miles, much of it over our primitive railroads, so trying to eggs and elliptic springs. Having been long expected, the news of the arrival spread rapidly; and our kind neighbors gathered in to help unload--very kind were they, and much disinterested--albeit they did want to see how the thing looked.

Well might they. It was a curiosity--it would be a greater curiosity now. Its total cost was sixty-five dollars in good money, the transportation some ten or fifteen more. It was a substantial stove, containing, in the matter of metal, enough for six such stoves as are cast in these degenerate days. As to appearance, I would describe it if I could. I find myself much in the predicament of a teamster, who was given to undue profanity. While hauling a load of ashes up a long hill, some mischievous elves came softly up and displaced the bottom of the bed so that the ashes would gradually escape. They then slipped past him, and secreted themselves where they knew he would stop his team, expecting to hear him swear like "our army did in Flanders;" but when he discovered the trick, and saw the rich trail up and down the hill-side, he drew a long breath, heaved a deep sigh, and said, "It's no use--the English language can't do justice to the occasion." The readers of this magazine know my acquaintance with, and command of the nervous, explosive descriptives of our language; but I "can't do justice" to that stove! Venerable mass of monumental iron! vast pile of pot-metal!

"Who knows what master laid thy keel,
What workman wrought thy ribs of iron;
What forges rang, what anvils beat,
In what a blast and what heat 
Were made thy" cap, dampers, etc.?

The inventor's name has escaped my memory--strange it should, for it is my mature conviction, that many a poor fellow has been pilloried for less atrocious deeds than inventing that stove.

Its plan was a double rotary movement. The top, pierced for several boilers, was rotary, and, using the language of a boarding-school young lady, "all devolved on a pivot," so each kettle and pot was in turn directly over the fire chamber. The oven also rotated by a cog-wheel movement, and was worked by a crank, so, after one side had baked awhile, the other could be wheeled next the fire and share its turn. Where, or how the pipe was placed I can't tell; I know it was so fixed it wouldn't draw.

Stanley Rotary Stove Patent Drawing (original version, without oven)

It was lifted out, the pieces counted, compared with the bill, and pronounced correct. The double-rotary movement, the cog-wheel, and crank, excited much admiration. The machine was run nearly all that night.

The capacity of the stove to prepare alimentary substance was then argued in detail. The great question was, "Will it bake corn-bread?" It was argued pro and con. I, miserable sinner, hoped it wouldn't, for I didn't want to see a dodger for six months. We had no distilleries then, and the best we could do was to eat the corn-we and the hogs-hence, corn-bread was an essential. The young suitor asked, ere he popped the question, "Can she make good corn-bread? Lacking this, music, drawing, embroidery, French, and dancing went for nothing. The majority decided in the negative; but the kitchen cabinet and the ex-Shakeress argued the affirmative most strenuously-subsequent developments proved the majority half right, for it never did more than half-bake a pone.

Of course the autobiography I published in this monthly some years ago, is distinctly remembered by every reader. I had occasion in that document to state that I have ever been a persecuted man. Take this fact in proof: I was made wood-purveyor of this stove. Green wood it refused to recognize, and ignored some sorts of seasoned. It would burn none unless split into kindling. But the selection and hauling of the fuel depended upon others. I found myself as bad off as the Israelites required to make brick without straw- finely-split dry wood was required of me by the kitchen cabinet, while I received nothing but load after load of green limbs or unsplittable chunks. At length even my sweet temper gave way, and I stopped the team, saying, unless I could have dry wood I wouldn't cut another stick and they might do the best they could for dinner. The master of the team saw that my purpose was taken, and said, "Why, the man is in earnest!" The seasoned wood came, and I ever bore the title of the man.

That stove seemed possessed of strange intelligence. Let strangers, or especially honored guests, arrive, and bake it wouldn't. In vain did [p. 41] I split the wood fine, and cross the wood; in vain would I fall an ash rail and "cut up the lap," bake it would not. In vain did we take out the ashes and soot; in vain did we ply the crank the more we tried the more it refused to bake.

Yet, with all its faults and foibles, that old stove had a mission. It is true we afterward sold it for fifteen dollars, yet it did a work. It was pioneer. Others followed in swift succession. Soon one of our neighbors reported a better stove bought with twenty dollars less money. We were compelled to own up; but he was soon reminded that crowing was uncertain. One of his neighbors bought the "newest style," with the "latest improvements," and laid out fifteen dollars less! He was wonderfully crest-fallen, and grew amazingly philosophic, and hastened to an old couple, and urged upon them the importance of a cooking-stove, and so desirous was he to add to their comfort, that he would sell them his, as good as new, for five dollars less than it cost. The old gentleman received the proposition gravely, but declined to purchase; and was soon seen hauling home one, span new, glittering all over with tin-ware, bought for twenty-five dollars. The ex-Shakeress, too, had one without waiting till her friends all died.

I must also mention, as a faithful historiographer, that soon after the stove came, a debating-club was organized, and kept up till the questions were exhausted. Then came on thrashing-machines, false-teeth, reapers, daguerreotypes, and hooped skirts. They came after our stove. Noble pioneer! it "headed the column on."

I do not, however, believe that it had any appreciable influence upon the compromises of 1850, or the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas troubles. I do not believe it, if it was prophesied that there was danger of a dissolution if cooking-stoves came in. History must settle this.

But much as stoves are improved, I still think some things are not so well cooked as in the days of fireplaces and ovens. 0, how often have I sighed for a good old-times, fireplace-cooked "potpie," such as was prepared in those days at rollings! I ne'er shall look upon the like again. What mush was then made! How we young folks would sit the winter night by the ingle side, and watch the bubbling up of the coming supper! No unskilled hand was permitted to use the mush-stick-too much was at stake. Did any body ever pretend that a bona fide pone was ever baked in a stove? Impossible! But I refrain -- savory memories come up; but what good will it do to think them over?--the substance can't be had. More's the pity.

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What kind of stove was "Ronald" recalling?  It's hard to tell, because his description is a bit odd in that it speaks of the oven as having been rotary too.  However, the most popular rotary stove in the region was also the most celebrated, Henry Stanley's, made in Poultney, Vermont since the early 1830s, and by other manufacturers under licence.  Here is a contemporary recommendation:

Caroline Gilman, The Lady's Annual Register, and Housewife's Memorandum-book for 1838 (Boston: T.H. Carter, 1837),

[p. 27] The Kitchen. Let us look into the kitchen; we need not  be ashamed of the place ... What a contrast between the kitchen of modern times and that of the period when King Alfred baked his cake on a  wooden board!  Kitchen utensils have fast accumulated, and dressers and closets are crowded with forms that would  puzzle a mathematician. This was the natural consequence of the restless ingenuity of civilized life until the present philosophy of mechanics was attained, by which cooking  and washing are reduced to the most simple forms. Among  the most admirable inventions for cooking are the cooking-stoves of Dutcher, Rathburn [RATHBONE], Whitney, James [the "Saddlebags," illustrated above], and the Rotary  stove -- the prices of which vary from twenty to forty  dollars, according to the size, and extent of apparatus; they  can be obtained in any of the principal cities .... With either of these //p. 28 cooking-stoves, even the mother of a family in delicate  health need not fear the overwhelming warmth which has  heretofore driven her from the kitchen; and her fair daughters  can prepare the most elaborate cookery without injuring  their complexions. One of the great charms of these inventions  is the air of neatness they throw around a kitchen... 

Stanley's rotaries and their Cincinnati maker figured in a widely reported patent case of 1839, Henry Stanley v. Emor Whipple [2 McLean, 35. December Term, 1839], for which see James B. Robb, compiler, A Collection of Patent Cases Decided in the Circuit and Supreme Courts of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1854), Vol. II, pp. 1-10, or to Whipple, his versions of the Stanley "had superseded all others" wherever it had been introduced (p. 5).

Like most popular stove types, Stanley's rotary was not entirely novel, and it was widely imitated. Other rotary stove patents included:

Stanley, Henry -- Poultney, VT -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. X7333 December 17, 1832
Town, Elisha -- Montpelier, VT -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. X7871 December 16, 1833
Nott, Eliphalet -- Schenectady, NY -- Cooking Stove Pat. No. X7948 January 9, 1834
Town, Elisha -- Montpelier, VT -- Cook Stove, Rotary Pat. No. X8206 May 16, 1834
Burnell, Levi -- Elyria, OH -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. X8509 November 25, 1834
Spoor, Abraham D. -- Coxsackie, NY -- Cook Stove Pat. No. X8573 January 7, 1835
Gill, Bennington -- New York, NY -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. X9285 December 9, 1835
Town, Elisha -- Montpelier, VT -- Stove, Crane cooking Pat. No. 37 September 28, 1836
French, Maynard -- Albany, NY -- Stove-cap, Rotary Pat. No. X9451 March 2, 1836
Douglas, Beriah -- Albany, NY -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. X9805 June 30, 1836
Douglas, Beriah -- Albany, NY -- Heating Stove Pat. No. X9806 June 30, 1836 [records for these two patents are confused -- the description of one is with the drawing of the other, and vice versa]
Granger, Rensselaer D. --  Troy, NY -- Stoves, Adding ovens to rotary Pat. No. 282 July 17, 1837
Mott, Jordan L. -- New York, NY -- Stove, Combination cooking Pat. No. 466 November 20, 1837
Heermance, Garet G. -- Poughkeepsie, NY -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. 852 July 24, 1838
Ketchum, Micah -- Boston, PA -- Stove Pat. No. 1,159 May 25, 1839
French, Maynard -- Cincinnati, OH -- Stove, Rotary-top Pat. No. 2,666 June 11, 1842
Hart, Albert D. -- Pittsfield, MA -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. 3,164 July 8, 1843
Stanley, Henry -- W. Poultney, VT -- Stove, Rotary-top Pat. No. 4,238 October 25, 1845
Mott, Jordan L. -- New York, NY -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. 7,347 May 7, 1850
Mott, Jordan L. -- New York, NY -- Stove, Cooking Pat. No. 7,366 May 14, 1850
Hill, W.W. -- Greenport, NY -- Dampers in rotary stoves, Arrangement of, Pat. No. 11,010 June 6, 1854

These were all (or almost all) patents for real stoves, the work of leading dealers and manufacturers in some of the trade's main centers, many of them leaving significant evidence of their sale (including advertisements, prizes in trade shows, etc.).  All of them can be inspected online, either at the USPTO's own site or via Google (e.g. for Rensselaer Granger's) but none of them seems to fit "Ronald of Indiana"'s peculiar description any more closely than Stanley's does.

1 comment:

  1. I have a Stanley original design stove in my shop. I would like to know how many of these still exist.