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Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Great American Bake-Offs; or, The Wars of the Stoves (in progress)

I sliced this from the end of the "Staff of Life" post, because that was getting too long, and this is inevitably going to be very texty, whereas most of the current round of posts are deliberately as heavy on illustrations as I can make them.

County fairs from at least the 1850s onwards were scenes of fierce competition among manufacturers to prove whose stove did the most with the least, in the shortest time, and stove catalogues were full of rather improbable boasts about their performance.  

Fuller & Warren, for example, claimed in 1873 that their new-model Stewart Stove achieved "MARVELOUS FEATS IN BREAD BAKING!!" -- 470 pounds of bread at one firing with 36 pounds of coal in a specially adapted stove, or 300 pounds with just 25 pounds of fuel in a standard stove, or even 70 pounds with a single stick of wood (this is easier to understand if you know that a "stick" was 17" long by 7" square, i.e. quite a substantial log). They promised to repeat such exploits any time somebody provided them with the flour, "upon condition that the bread baked shall be distributed for the benefit of the poor." [Fuller & Warren Co., P.P. Stewart's New Cooking Stoves, Air-Tight, Anthracite non-clinker, Bituminous non-clinker, and Wood Stoves: Forty-Five Different Stoves to Select From (Troy, NY, 1873), p. 22]  

Their great Albany rivals, John Strong Perry's Oriental & American Stove Works, pooh-poohed such results, achieved with "the use of extraordinary appliances," but promised to meet any competition at any time with a stove using "such ordinary furniture as is generally used in a farmer's kitchen," and that "With a given amount of fuel" they would "cook more pounds of meat and vegetables, make more pounds of bread, and boil more gallons of water than can be done with any other stove." [Perry & Co., The New American Hot Blast Cooking Stove: with Patent Low Enameled Reservoir, also with Patent Low Copper Clad Iron Reservoir, and Cast Iron Warming Closet (Albany, 1872), broadside]

Another, smaller Albany maker, William Doyle, centered its advertising [t.b.c.] 

As the Albany Morning Express had reported on the 10th of October, 1864, ""At every State Fair held in this or other States, the competition in stoves is very great, and manufacturers of these indispensable articles of the household, who claim to be the inventors or owners of such as are known to be superior to the hundreds of varieties thrown upon the market, make it a point to advance their claims for superiority with never-tiring pertinacity, exhausting their skill and ingenuity, as well as their eloquence, explaining to the judges who are to pass upon the merits of the article presented, the advantages claimed by them for their mechanical productions."  [Quoted in Shear, Packard & Co., The Improved American Hot Air Gas Burning Cooking Stove for Wood or Coal (Albany, 1867), pp. 30-31.] 

The best way to demonstrate their claims was with the kind of trials Fuller & Warren and Perry & Co. boasted of having carried out, and said they to be willing to prove again,  only in open competition under standardized conditions, before independent judges and a public wanting to be entertained as well as sold. The stakes were high, and the race was not necessarily to the best or swiftest, but sometimes just to the sharpest cheat.  

Here, for example, is a report of the stove trial at the second Louisiana state fair in 1867, in a state just reopening to the stove trade of the North after the great interruption of the Civil War:

"By far the most exciting contest that has yet taken place at the fair was the grand stove trial. For this great race there were six entries, in the following order :

1. E. Wood Perry enters Norton's Furnace.

2. Rice Bros. & Co. enter Charter Oak. 

3. .......................Peerless.

4. .......................Good Samaritan.

5. Levi & Navra Cotton Plant.

6. .............Buck's Brilliant.

The latter is very unique in appearance, being provided with glass sides, through which the bread can be seen baking, without the necessity of opening the door. All were arranged upon a platform in the open air, each being surrounded by its special corps of managers. The "Cotton Plant," and
"Charter Oak" were run by lady engineers, whose professional skill served them to good purpose, in opposition to those run by man power. Each was provided with eight pounds of dough, made into two loaves, and fifteen pounds of fuel. As the time approached for the contest to commence, the attendant crowd had increased to about two hundred persons, about one-half
of whom were ladies.

The result of the contest not being satisfactory, a new trial was ordered for the following day, when there was a large increase of spectators. The entries and engineers were the same as at the previous trial. 

At ten minutes to one the drum tapped and all lighted up, Norton's Furnace, run by Mr. E. Wood Perry, led off in smoke amid the cheers of the crowd and loud cries of 'go //p. 284 it old one.' Charter Oak followed, and the rest gave out vapor almost immediately after. In four minutes, just as they were (we might say) rounding the quarter stretch, 'Cotton Plant' popped in bread, all followed suit as quickly as though life depended on the issue, but Buck's Brilliant had started fire with bread already in the stove. Then came the tug, the cooks' countenances glowed like the
stoves; a perpetual snapping of opening and shutting doors resounded over the arena. Stoves were patted, coaxed and petted as though they were human beings. All seemed confident of winning, and the crowd enlivened the scene with humorous and encouraging comments from time to time, Mr. Perry's efforts seeming to be the greatest favored. At twenty minutes past one
'Cotton Plant' threw open its throttle valves and announced that it wanted no more fuel. All the others 'shut up' and 'keeping dark.' As the time for the bread to be baked approached, excitement had increased to a baking heat, both within and without the arena. At last Peerless turned out its
bread in 42 minutes; Norton's Furnace followed suit, in 42:15; Cotton Plant next, in 43; then Charter Oak, in 43:2; then Good Samaritan, in 44:20; and lastly, Buck's Brilliant, in 47. The grand result of the trial was as follows:

Norton's Furnace, E. Wood Perry, bread weighed 7 lb. 3 oz.; burned fuel, 7 1/2 lb.

Charter Oak, Rice Bros. & Co., bread weighed 7 lb. 4 oz.; burned fuel, 6 3/4 lb.

Peerless, Campman & Co., bread weighed 7 lb. 4 oz.; burned fuel, 6 1/4 lb.

Good Samaritan, bread weighed 7 lb. 9 oz.; burned fuel, 7 1/4 lb.

Cotton Plant, Levi & Navra, bread weighed 7 lb. 1 oz.; burned fuel, 7 1/4 lb.

Buck's Brilliant, Buck & Wright, bread weighed 7 lb. 4 oz.; burned fuel, 3 1/2 lb.

At the conclusion of the trial the bread was taken charge of by the Awarding Committee, who awarded to Buck & Wright, of St. Louis, the gold medal for the best wood stoves. -- Honorable mention being made of the 'Peerless,' Campman & Co.

Next in order was the trial for coal stoves, for which there were three entered. Buck & Wright entering the Paragon; E. Wood Perry the Norton Furnace, and Campman & Co. the Peerless. One loaf of four pounds of dough and the same quantity of wood and Pittsburg coal were served out to each, and all at a given signal fired up and 'went in,' with the following result:

Norton's Furnace, entered by E. Wood Perry, burned coal, 2 lb. 7 oz.: wood, 2 lb. 8 oz.; time 46 minutes; bread weighed 3 lb. 11 oz.

Peerless, entered by Campman & Co., burned coal, 2 lb.; wood 1 lb. 6 oz.; time, 46 minutes; bread weighed 3 lb. 10 oz.

Paragon, entered by Buck & Wright, burned coal, 2 lb.; wood, 2 lb. 3 oz.; time, 58 minutes; bread weighed 3 lb 10 oz.

The committee unanimously awarded the gold medal to Campman & Co., for the best coal stove exhibited.

["The Fair at New Orleans," American Farmer (March 1868), pp. 282-4 at p. 284.  The following year, J.H. Campman wrote to his supplier, Marcus Lucius Filley of Troy, New York, about whether he should enter Filley's stoves into another contest: he could not match his rivals' feats, however hard he tried, and assumed that they cheated.  Nor did he think the game was worth the candle: "I have found that the Blue Ribbons won at fairs dont (sic) wear long & I find it does much harm if once entering in to (siccompetition the stove is defeated but by keeping out all to gather (sic) it remains undecied if my stove is the best or the worst."  Campman to Filley, 3 March 1869, Filley Papers, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Troy, Box 4, Folder 24]


1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    Looking for the Hollow Ware section of Stove Catalogues for the Albany/Troy (and surrounding area) to assist in identifying Skillets and other items.


    Scott Price