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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jordan Mott's Great Hog-Scalding Success Story (upd. 1 Feb. 2014)

This is a bit of a jeu d'esprit, or something -- it's about what was almost certainly the best-selling item that Jordan Mott ever made: not a fancy (or to be honest, frankly pretty ugly) heating stove, or an anthracite cooking stove with the patented features of which he was so proud, but something very humble: a "Farmer's Boiler," a portable furnace with a cauldron on top for heating large quantities of water or other liquids, quickly and efficiently -- to improve the nutritional quality of cattle food [see Appendix], to provide the large quantities of boiling water required for slaughtering and curing meat (particularly hogs), and, as it turned out, for a whole lot else besides.

Designing this appliance wasn't Mott's idea.  He was always very frank that he was just responding to a suggestion from the American Institute of the City of New York that "a simple, portable, and low priced furnace was much wanted by farmers for boiling and steaming food, preparing maple or beet-root sugar, and for many mechanical purposes." [Mott, Description and Design (1841), p. 29.]  Mott responded quickly to this proposal from an organization of which he had been a member since 1835, and which had done so much to promote his career by providing him, through its annual Fair, with publicity for his patent stoves, the endorsement that came with prizewinning, and even an opportunity to sell them to the thousands of visitors.

The result was his thirteenth stove patent, No. 1873 (1840), and perhaps his most profitable, if we can trust the evidence of his patent management -- extending it in 1854, when it would normally have expired, then reissuing it in 1855 (Reissue 296) and again in 1857 (Reissue 431), in order to squeeze the maximum possible value out of it.  None of his other stove patents had so much value, and only one of his heating and cooking stove patents went as far as an extension and reissue (his self-feeding magazine stove No. 7910X, December 1833; Reissue No. 83, August 1846, online patent record presently unavailable).  [To remove the uncertainty surrounding the "perhaps" in the first line of this paragraph, it would be necessary (a) to check the manuscript patent files at the National Archives, and particularly (b) to go through the Patent Assignment records, to see how this patent compared with Mott's others in terms of its licensing to other manufacturers.  The first procedure could be carried out from a distance, with a request to bulk-copy whole folders; but the second would require a site visit, and isn't going to happen any time soon.]

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The problem Mott needed to solve is best described in his own words:

Prior to my said invention many attempts were made to produce a portable furnace and pot for culinary purposes; but, so far as I am informed, without success. A large caldron, in contradistinction to a mere pot, is an article of great use, particularly among farmers. It is generally required to be of great capacity, and should be portable, that it may be readily removed from place to place, where its use may be most convenient. To combine a vessel of such capacity with a furnace of a square or quadrangular form, suited to the burning of wood, with economy, this being the kind of fuel generally used by farmers, the whole structure requires to be made of cast metal, for cheapness, and yet sufficiently light to be conveniently moved from place to place. Such was the article required, and which, for the first time, was produced by my said invention.

In view of the objects to be attained, my said invention consists in combining a round caldron, or one of analogous shape, with a small portable, square, or quadrangular box stove below, for burning wood, so that the area of the fire-chamber shall be smaller than the caldron, with the view to reduce the weight, the cost of construction, and economy of fuel, the said combination being effected by spreading or swelling out the upper part of the sides of the box-stove, raising them with the front and back, in a circular form, to surround the whole or the most important part of the caldron, and leaving a flue-space beteen this enlaged part of the box-stove and the caldron for the circulation of the products of combustion around and under the caldron, before escaping from the exit-pipe, thus exposing a much larger surface of the caldron to the action of the heat than could be otherwise obtained from a fire-chamber of comparatively small capacity, the whole being cast of iron, and fitted and bound together to be easily moved from place to place, for convenience in use, and my said invention also consists in combining with the parts so spread out sectional pieces fitted and secured thereto and to each other, whereby the whole of the caldron may be surrounded by a flue-space.

His solution to this design problem was simple, ingenious, and hard to improve on.  The piece of general-purpose technology that he devised in 1840 would turn out to last long after his death, whereas very few of his other ideas (perhaps the one embodied in Patent 7910X, the anthracite "self-feeder," which would feature in many coal-fired cooking stoves for another century) would outlive him.

Mott's "furnace" was, at bottom, a simple wood-fired box stove -- much simpler than anything else he had ever devised, made, or sold, and using the fuel of country-dwellers rather than the anthracite that had made his reputation and fortune but whose consumers were still, in the late 1830s, mostly confined to the urban north-east.  Making something to burn wood, and for farmers, immediately opened up to him a much larger potential market than he had ever faced.  (Mott's usual market territory was confined to New York City and its suburbs, the eastern New Jersey towns that would were already part of the metropolitan area, the lower Hudson Valley, and the towns along Long Island Sound.)  On top of the stove there was a strong but lightweight casing, with flue channels cast into it to maximize thermal efficiency, surrounding the cauldron itself.  Making this demountable, light enough to move fairly easily and yet strong enough to bear the weight and stand rough treatment, was really the heart of Mott's achievement -- not so much an invention as a clever design, made by a man who had a great deal of mechanical ingenuity even though he had had neither training nor apprenticeship, and spent his first fifteen years of working life as a grocer.  He had taught himself how to make things out of cast iron in his late 30s, particularly after opening his first iron foundry in about 1837.

It became clear very quickly that Mott's furnace met a real need, and with the endorsement the American Institute and others provided for it, its market grew rapidly.  Most of its early users were farmers, and the influential Cultivator, an Albany farmers' journal with a wide circulation, gave it a strong boost: "A good, cheap, and durable boiler has long been sought for by the farmer.  Potash kettles, cauldrons, and boxes, with sheet-iron bottoms set in brick, have been used, as well as steam-boilers of various descriptions, but they all take up considerable room, are clumsy and burdensome." Steam boilers might suit very large farms, but "every farmer is not engineer enough to manage one" without "an occasional explosion or collapse."  The journal's editor, C.N. Bement, reported to his readers in December 1840 that he had spent seven years trying everything, and had decided to rely on Mott's cauldron instead after what must have been a very brief trial.  "[I]t has many advantages over those set in brick.  It takes up but little room, is light, and may be placed on the floor, and requires no foundation to support it.  Besides being portable, it may be removed from place to place, as occasion or convenience may require; two men are sufficient to remove it.  It can be made to boil full of vegetables in thirty minutes, and the second filling in twenty minutes."  It was also much more fuel-efficient than existing appliances, and "Although wood may be plenty, it takes time and labor to procure it."

Even though it had only been designed with farmers in mind, it turned out that there were many others potential users who also needed a simple, robust, and efficient source of process heat.  So as well as boiling food for cattle, within their first year, 1840-1841, they were bought for many purposes neither Mott nor the Institute had anticipated, and used for "beaching [sic, probably bleaching] oil, for making starch, for boiling hair for the upholsterers, for trying [melting and refining] lard and tallow.  They have been sent on whaling voyages, on sealing voyages; sold to the sugar boiler, to the baker, to the shipwright to boil his tar, to the plumber to melt his lead, to the dyer when fitted with copper kettles.  Very many have been sold for washing boilers."  [Mott, Description and Design, pp. 30-31.]  Mott made them in several different sizes -- from a half to four barrels, or 15 to 120 gallons capacity, i.e. a diameter of 2 to 4 feet, at a cost of from $9 to $40 by 1847, i.e. c. $4,000 to $18,000 at current values, and with a probable weight between c. 250 and 8-900 pounds.  ["Mott's Patent Agr'l Furnace," The Cultivator 4:8 (Aug. 1847), p. 249; weights calculated by assuming a wholesale stove price of $70/ton and a 40 percent retail markup.]

Without fully intending to, Mott had evidently invented a piece of simple general-purpose technology ideally suited to the needs of a broad range of users.  He also worked out how to rapidly extend his market territory far beyond the regions he could supply and the levels of production he could achieve from his own small New York foundry.  In this respect, too, he was an innovator -- within the stove industry, at least.

He explained his strategy in the 1843 update of his 1841 catalogue: he was happy to sell other manufacturers a set of duplicate iron patterns for any of his patent devices, together with the right to make and sell them (within defined territories) on what he called "reasonable terms." Alternatively, he would make an exclusive dealership arrangement with "one responsible house only in each place," as another way of extending market penetration without undermining the fixed, premium price he asked for his patented products [Notice to the Trade on back cover].

We can track the success of this strategy in advertisements appearing in major cities along the Erie Canal in 1841 and 1842, put into local publications by the merchants and manufacturers making and selling Mott's goods.  It seems clear that Mott supplied his agents and licensees with their advertising copy and woodcuts of his appliances, as part of the service they paid for -- see "Mott's Patent Agriculturists Furnace," The New Genesee Farmer, and Gardener's Journal 2:9 (Sept. 1841), p. 144 [Rochester, NY] and "Mott's Patent Agriculturist's Stove and Cauldron," in Horatio N. Walker, 1842.  Walker's Buffalo City Directory (Buffalo: Steele's Press, 1842), unpaginated front matter.

As a result of Mott's success in meeting the need the American Institute had pointed out to him, and other users' speed in seeing its suitability for them too, Mott's boilers spread like wildfire.  By 1843 he claimed that they were already "in use in every state in the Union, in Florida, in Canada, have been shipped to the West Indies, to South America, to Africa, to Europe, and to California on the Pacific." They were "used for nearly every purpose requiring large boilers" by farmers, dairymen, milkmen, Southern planters, butchers, lard-refiners, hotel keepers and other institutions requiring abundant hot water, soap makers, druggists, dyers, lead-melters, bakers, oil dealers, and many others (e.g. makers of hats, trunks, cement, root beer, and tannin oil) who needed to heat-process wet raw materials.  If we group these occupations, we can say that, of the customers whose details he reported, 53 percent were directly involved in agriculture, 17 percent in food processing, 14 percent in nonfood processing, 11 percent in domestic and hospitality services, and the residue (5 percent) in miscellaneous light-industrial activities.  

One -- albeit imperfect -- way of visualizing the extent of Mott's own market territory is by mapping the locations of the c. 350 customers he had in his first three years selling boilers and whose names, addresses, and (when he knew them) occupations he listed in his 1843 catalogue; they were in effect endorsements.  It is impossible to tell how large and representative a sample this was of Mott's entire customer list, and why he included these names and not others.  He seems to have begun with a careful presentation, structured by buyers' occupation or business, but then added to it by throwing in extra pages of customers in no particular order, and with little information about them except for names and locations. In addition, given his practice of licensing out his patents to other makers, or having exclusive dealership arrangements with retailers in other cities, then any list of people to whom Mott sold furnaces direct would only give a partial reflection of the size and scope of the entire market for them. However, even with these caveats, the data is probably worth summarizing and mapping, because there is nothing better available.

The data itself:

Location data mapped:

Mott's Core Market

Commentary: Though Mott boasted that his boilers sold everywhere, his own reports point to a rather more limited and predictable concentration on New York city and its immediate environs, southern New England, the Hudson Valley, and the Erie Canal corridor.  Locations marked with a red star accounted for almost a third of his reported sales -- New York City itself, Brooklyn, Essex County (New Jersey), Troy, Utica, and Buffalo.  This is a market territory still defined by the limits of water transportation and as little resort to wagon freight as possible -- a pre-railroad distribution system for heavy, quite costly goods.  

* * * 

Thomas G. Dudley & Co. advertisement, 1853: The Commercial Advertiser Directory for the City of Buffalo (Buffalo: Jewett, Thomas & Co., 1853), p. 71 -- Dudley's Union Furnace evidently valued its status as a Mott licensee.

Mott seems to have enjoyed his monopoly relatively undisturbed -- for example, his name is absent from the lists of reported patent cases, whereas other leading stove inventors and inventions are well represented there, possibly because his terms allowing others lawful use of his intellectual property really were as reasonable as he claimed.  Two other New Yorkers patented rival but more complicated devices depending on generating steam and using that to heat the boiler in 1841 (Lansing E. Hopkins, "Agricultural Boiler/Combined Caldron, Steam-Boiler, and Furnace," No. 2306 -- heavy and certainly not portable; and Salmon C. Riley, "Steam Boiler," No. 2318 -- probably more portable).  But there is no evidence from the agricultural press or dealers' advertisements that they offered him serious competition.  In 1856, i.e. after his patent's first reissue, Henry Newsham of Baltimore did present him a challenge, with his "Domestic Boiler/Caldron," No. 14,271, which was explicitly critical of Mott's simple device, and claimed to improve on it in at least four important particulars: enhancing fuel economy, sparing those using it the danger of having to work near its scorching-hot sides, installing a discharge cock (Mott's cauldron users had to bale hot liquid out with a dipper or bucket), and thereby eliminating the risk of cracking when liquid fell on the red-hot metal of the casing.  Newsham's looks like it was a practicable device, but the evidence seems to be that Mott's design was so well established that, even when his patent expired, other designers and makers simply produced their own minor variations on what had become a generic device, and Mott's firm continued to sell their own modestly updated versions of the original product.  By 1871, for example, the firm had increased the range of sizes from 10-200 gallons, and the price from $10-$110, or $12-$73 for the original sizes and the wood-fired version only -- the coal-fueled version cost $2-$13 more.  Using the same method of "Measuring Worth" as was employed above, these prices translate into $3,000-$22,000 at 2012 values.  These were advertised as "Prices Reduced," but as these are wholesale, while 1847's were retail, they suggest in fact an impressive ability on the firm's part to maintain and indeed enhance their prices years after the expiration of their controlling patents, on what was still a market-defining product.  [J.L. Mott Iron Works, Trade List, 1871: Stoves, Hollow-Ware &c. &c.  Manufactured by the J.L. Mott Iron Works (New York: J.H. Campbell & Co., 1871), p. 29, copy in Winterthur Library.]

The expiration of the reissued patent, however, liberated other foundrymen to muscle in on Mott's market, without having to pay a royalty fee. What they seem to have done is to attempt to distinguish their products from his simply on the basis of their appearance, and to have used the design patent system to buy themselves a measure of insulation from other makers of what had by then become a generic device.  Amos C. Barstow of Providence, RI, patented his "Portable Cauldron," D1830 in 1863 -- the first member of what became a distinct patent sub-class, searchable as such in the Patent Office database, D23/334; and in 1864 Russell Wheeler and Stephen Bailey of Utica, NY patented their own version, "Agricultural Furnace" D1951. The following year, their larger Utica competitors John and Merritt Peckham patented what was obviously also just a Mott-pattern boiler ("Agricultural Furnace," D2032), but with "a more neat and tasty design for the purpose than hitherto used or invented." The Peckham brothers' design was more self-consciously arty than either of their predecessors', but what their attractive castings clad was an equally familiar and very recognizable product. The fact that all of these well-established stove makers chose to use the design-patent system meant that there did not need to be anything functionally novel about their products; all they were claiming was a distinctive external "dress" on them; this was enough to protect them against imitation. It would be interesting to know if all of these men and their firms had been among Mott's licensees; it is at least plausible, and the timing works. The Peckhams certainly had been, since at least 1850: an advertising leaflet in my possession makes it clear that they were then selling Mott's Patent Agricultural Furnaces in six sizes, for between $5 and $18 wholesale for the 10 gallon to two barrel (60 gallon) sizes, and their own very similar, but cheaper, "Patent Dairymaids" at $5 to $8 for 15 to 30 gallons capacity.

Trade Card, "Peckham's Portable Agricultural Furnace, and Farmers' Boiler," n.d., distributed by S.H. Cheney, Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin, dealer.

These pioneers were followed by others, who also aimed principally to distinguish their Mott-type furnaces from other manufacturers' on the basis of their attractive appearance.  It seems odd to think that buyers of such utilitarian pieces of kit may have been swayed by aesthetic considerations, but the only conclusion one can reach from the fact that stove designers invested time and money in producing fancy patterns and patenting them is that they thought that enough might be to make it worth their while.  These farmers' boilers turned into works of art, of a sort, and are worth giving an airing here, and even celebrating.

Here, for example, is Francis Kernan, Jr, also of Utica, and William H. Landers of Syracuse's wonderful "Agricultural Heater," D20648, of 1891 -- functionally scarcely different from the Peckhams', Wheeler and Bailey's, Barstow's, or indeed Mott's, i.e. almost unchanged in half a century, except for the charmingly naive outline drawing of the fat hog on the side of the cauldron, intended I suppose to remind the farmer (or perhaps the hog?) about what the appliance was for, in case they had forgotten:

And here, even more of a work of art, is the last of these products that I have been able to find -- by George E. Pickup of Newark, Ohio, an "Agricultural Boiler" of 1908, D38991, that seems more appropriate as a baptismal font for cattle than as a receptacle for the preparation of their feed:

Other inventors tried to improve on the Mott boiler rather than just to prettify it, but with quite limited success: as we can see from the above, it lived on almost unchanged for at least half a century after Jordan Mott's death, probably because his original design remained appropriate for many of the farmers who had been its original intended customers, who continued to work in a world of wood fuel, no running water, and a high level of self-sufficiency, well into the twentieth century, and who still appreciated these products for their cheapness, simplicity, and utility.

[t.b.a., 1 Feb. 2014]

P.S.  I did not note down at the time where I got this picture of an 1877 patent Canadian farmers' cook stove, but I include it here as another illustration of the way in which makers of stoves for the North American rural market in the late nineteenth century understood that some of their potential customers would appreciate getting a little bit of art thrown in when they bought their everyday appliances.

APPENDIX: On the Advantages of Cooking Animal Feed

Why the enthusiasm for cooking animal feed, and therefore, why was there thought to be such a potential market for boilers like Mott's that the American Institute issued the suggestion that led to its invention?

It is undeniable that stewing or boiling many things that would otherwise have been waste products from farming, as well as the usual food grains, could turn them into palatable, more digestible animal feed.  But early nineteenth-century American farmers, even -- perhaps especially? -- the more progressive and "scientific,"  believed there was more to it than that.  As the New England Farmer explained in 1822, this was "Among the most useful improvements of modern husbandry."  It had been imported from Great Britain's go-ahead farmers, together with the pseudo-science that inflated its promise.  "A great advantage, which results from preparing food for cattle by steaming or boiling is obtained by its converting water into solid feed. This may appear incredible to those who either have not thought at all, or thought somewhat superficially on the subject .... [W]ater is capable of affording a great deal of nutriment either in a liquid or solid form."  No less an authority than Count Rumford himself had demonstrated this in his arguments for hasty pudding (a sort of corn porridge, which when cold could be sliced and toasted or fried with butter, lard, or meat) as the ideal food for the poor, because of the amount of extra weight and bulk, which he confused with nutritional value, that could be added to grains by boiling.

The New England Farmer's told its readers how to make the fixed equipment needed for large-scale preparation of animal feed, and by the time of John Taylor's Farmer's School Book (1837) a brick-set steamer was recommended as "indispensably necessary on all farms where the feeding of cattle is conducted to any extent," though by then the magical, something-for-nothing thinking of the early 1820s no longer formed part of the argument.  The following year, "B," writing in the Farmers' Register, opined that this equipment "ought to be put up on every farm in the country, and to be considered as much a fixture as a corn crib or pig pen."  By 1840, the Register's authors were even more insistent: "Agricola" argued that the farmers of Pennsylvania alone could save themselves $10 each, altogether $1,500,000 a year, by installing "large boilers ... properly enclosed in brick work or masonry" to cook their hog and cattle food.  "P." added that "Those who have erected them in a proper manner ... would not be willing to part with them for three times their original cost."  They saved cost and loss in milling feed grains, and the stock did better.  With cows, for example, "it puts marrow into their bones, and in the spring and summer the dairy maids draw it out in the shape of fine rich butter which always brings a good price since these piping days of steam-boats and rail-roads which have set the whole world a travelling."  Even better, the equipment required was getting cheaper: "Some have erected expensive structures for steaming, but it seems now to be admitted that a simple boiler, set in a proper manner in brick work with a grate underneath to support the fuel is the cheapest and best plan hitherto adopted. The demand for these boilers having increased has induced the manufacturers of them to improve them, and also to sell them at a less price than was formerly given for them..."

What the American Institute wanted to make possible was to bring the advantages of this mode of food preparation within the reach of farmers who could not afford, or did not want to install, fixed equipment.  Mott's invention achieved this, and much more, because its portability made it far more versatile.  It may also be significant that "Agricola" and "P." were both Pennsylvanians, writing from a state better endowed with iron furnaces and foundries than any other, and where easy, inexpensive access to heavy cast iron boilers did not encourage the kind of novel thinking Mott demonstrated. Mott's customer list seems to confirm this: he reported hardly any sales in Pennsylvania, though the increasingly prosperous dairy farmers of the south-east of the state (the heart of the iron-making industry) should have provided him with a good market.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Jordan Mott's Anthracite Stoves (upd. 15 June 2014)

This post, like so many of them in the last couple of the months, is the result of a serendipitous encounter online: while looking for one thing (a good illustration of a Franklin, for the previous post), I found something different, via an auction site.  (I have always found these, like the specialized antique shops, to be good sources of images of stoves and stove-related ephemera, notably trade cards and catalogues, though often what they show so well is so poorly described that it is difficult to use it to the full.  Still, they aren't museum curators, and are unintentionally offering me a free service, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.)  

Here's what I discovered: one of the most important stoves, from one of the most significant early inventors and makers, was going on sale, in Philadelphia, in the near future --  Until I told the auctioneers about it, they didn't really know what they had (they thought it was fifty years younger, and therefore much less rare and potentially valuable). They responded by correcting their description.  This wasn't the end of my writing around about it.  I persuaded myself that this was an important piece of history, and it ought to be in an appropriate public museum rather than to disappear again into a private collection.  So I tried to interest various curators in it, with rather limited success.  I even considered buying it myself, and trying to persuade a museum at least to accept and conserve it.  But in the end I didn't bid (I feared that I might find myself with several hundred dollars less, and a storage problem for several hundred pounds of old iron, several thousand miles from home -- not at all convenient!), and happily I didn't need to.  This old Mott stove is going to a good home, Hyde Hall historic house in Cooperstown, New York, where its classical styling will help it fit in nicely.

I wrote the following blog entry to work out for myself what exactly I was looking at, and as part of my campaign to persuade others of the importance of this battered old survivor from America's first great age of stove invention and manufacture.

22 Jan. 2014

(1) The object itself:

Here it is, in all of its glory: a small stove, just 21.5" wide x 17" deep x 23" high.  Its unusual vertical grate is flanked by shallow, flaring jambs, and surrounded by a sort of miniature cast-iron mantel, or fire-frame: classical columns surmounted by a decorated entablature with mythological figures at either side of the most prominent feature of the stove, its maker's name and claim.Its 

This side view shows the flare of the jambs clearly, and also that this appliance is meant to stand out from a wall rather than be buried in the recess of an existing fireplace -- the other principal way of placing a stove in a household setting.  How do we know this?  
(a) Because the side plate, too, is decorated -- pointless if the stove is meant to be sited in a recess; (b) because if it wasn't free-standing, it would have been almost impossible for a cook to make use of the large, covered hole in the top -- lifting heavy pans on and off, or stirring food while it cooked, would have required plenty of clearance above it, that no ordinary fireplace recess could have provided.  Below the grate can be seen a sunken ashpit -- a common feature of wood stoves since at least the early 1820s, making it much easier to remove the ashes without getting them everywhere, and also providing a bed of glowing coals over which some cooking operations could be carried out.  There would have been a removable cover for this pit, which has been lost, but could easily be replaced with a new steel plate.

In this detail we can see two important features of the design:

  • first, the designer and maker's name, and his claim to exclusive intellectual property in his device, in the most prominent place on the stove, the center of the frieze. (Compare the Wilson's Patent Franklin in the previous post -- i.e. this practice was not new to Mott; it would become the common custom of the trade, and the information provided would become more detailed after the mid-1840s, including not just the patentee's name but the precise date of his patent.)  The pattern-maker seems to have had a problem with his apostrophe -- perhaps he only had a comma in his kit of cast-lead letters, tacked onto the wood pattern to add text to it.
  • second, the key innovation (which may or may not have been his original idea) that Mott sought to protect from imitation through his patents -- the "self-feeder," i.e. the little hatch with a ring-pull holder, through which small lumps of anthracite could be poured into a magazine from which they were gravity-fed to the grate and burning zone. This meant that Mott's stoves did not have to (indeed, could not) burn the more expensive sizes of large-lump coal then in use, but just the cheap trash, and that they would not need constant attention -- instead, they would burn economically for hours on end.  Both of these advantages of the self-feeder turned into significant savings of money and time for the householder, and helped to compensate for the higher prices Mott probably charged for his patent-protected goods.

This top view shows the self-feeder more clearly (including a broken bar, alas -- but after 180 years a bit of wear and tear is to be expected, and it could easily be mended by a skilled welder), and also the single large cooking- or boiling-hole behind the fire, with its cover removed.  Mott's stove was meant for an ordinary household -- not the elite and institutional purchasers who made up the Reverend Dr Eliphalet Nott's clientele for his anthracite heating stoves, for which see this post -- for whom the kitchen fire provided warmth for their most important, perhaps their only, living room, and also light, as well as enabling them to do their cooking, boil water, etc.  
The cover may or may not be original, not that it matters -- parts of stoves most exposed to heavy use often broke, and were meant to be replaced; in any event, it is a simple piece of hollowware.  One can also see the head of one of the bolts holding the stove together (lower right-hand corner).

This detail shows the fineness of the casting: after almost 180 years, the lines are still sharp, the relief decorations standing well proud of the surface.  However, it is a bit pitted -- whether this is a result of corrosion and recent over-enthusiastic cleaning, or was present from the beginning, would be nice to know for sure, because it is historically relevant (see below).

I do not know what the motif of the two horses' heads beneath an arch of ?vine leaves on the frieze is supposed to be, or mean, and I am equally in the dark about significance, if any, of the folkish musician represented on the side plate.  But I am impressed by the amount and quality of surface decoration on what was an essentially utilitarian object.  It is impossible to be sure just from looking at pictures (it would be difficult even in an up-close encounter), but my guess is that much of this decoration would have been carved separately from the rather plain wooden patterns for the stove's principal plates, and just glued and/or nailed on -- this had been normal stove-plate pattern-making technique since the late eighteenth century. The main front plate, however, including the jambs, columns, and entablature, was probably carved out of several separate slabs of pine and then assembled into a single pattern to cast the whole thing in one piece.  Mott's pattern maker was probably Isaac Deaves (b. 1776), one of the most experienced stove-pattern makers in Philadelphia, the center of the trade; Deaves certainly made Mott's other early stoves, including one referred to in an 1845 patent case as his "Franklin cook stove" with a one-piece cast front, which is almost certainly the stove before us.  A slightly later model of one of Mott's stoves shows the same style of applique decoration on its plain flat plates -- compare the catalogue illustration, with the decoration sketched on in a lighter hand, with the original patent drawing (also included below, but inserted here too for ease of comparison):

Mott, Description and Design (1841), p. 25.

Mott, Patent No. 50 (1836).

(2) Why do I think that this stove dates from the mid-1830s, and why is the year significant?

The patent Mott refers to on this stove is probably not his first, for an Anthracite-Coal Stove (7096X, 30 May 1832), which was just a plain, oblong, magazine-fed heater, though the drawing does give a good cross-section of his magazine, grate, and burning-zone, which is essentially the same arrangement as in this and most of his other stoves, but his second, for a Magazine Stove (7910X, 30 December 1833).  This was also for a heating stove, but it had the same flaring jambs around the grate, as well as the more elegant styling, and indeed a limited cooking capability, of his later combined heating and cooking stove, which we have just been looking at.


How did Mott get from his 1833 design for what looks like quite an elegant space heater, suitable for an office, hotel lobby, or hallway, rather than a domestic kitchen or parlor, to the squat, square combined cooking and heating stove we see before us?  Any answer must be partly speculative, but most of it is provided by the man's own explanations for the evolution of his own ideas, contained in his patent documents and his 1841 catalogue, the Description and Design of Mott's Patented Articles, Secured by 27 Patents ... (New York, 1841), of which the only surviving copy is in the Winterthur Library, and elsewhere.  

Not a Mott pyramidal stove, but about the right date (1838) and city (New York) --
gives a sense of the kind of public context in which his heating stoves had to fit.

The text of patent 7910X makes it clearer than the drawing that his device was in fact already designed with several objects in view: he was attempting to produce an appliance to compete with the "Open Franklin," giving a good sight of the fire, and with flaring jambs to reflect the radiant heat; to have in addition the advantages of a "close stove" in terms of heat output (hence the large body and decorative fluted stove pipe, to maximize heat transfer into the room); and also to have a small opening in the top for a cooking pot, which is barely visible in the right-hand drawing (the first opening, in the front of top by letter A, was for the fuel-feed; behind it was another, for cooking).

The stove as drawn cannot have been a very convenient cooking device -- suitable for boiling a tea-kettle, perhaps.  But to broaden the demand for his stoves in the very competitive New York market, Mott had to make something more useful to an ordinary household, whose kitchen was also their main or only living room, particularly in winter; or who, even if they had a separate parlor, did not wish to heat two rooms unless they had to, so would appreciate a device that was both an attractive piece of furniture and a serviceable dual-function appliance.

Mott was not the only New York designer trying to meet this need.  At the Seventh Annual Fair of the American Institute, held at Niblo's Gardens in October 1834, Mott won a first premium for his office stoves, and a second (behind Nott & Co.) for his anthracite coal cooking stoves (see illustration below), but his neighbor and rival William Naylor's coal cooking stove was "acknowledged the best article of the kind ever brought into the market." It was of a quite new type known as an "Oven Franklin," i.e. it had an oven behind the fire, with two boiler-holes above; it also had an attractive, decorative front plate, like an ordinary Franklin, so that it could enhance a kitchen or grace a parlor with equal ease.  My surmise is that, in altering the proportions of his 1833 stove, and making it a more effective cooker, 
with a larger boiling hole (albeit that it lacked an oven -- something other Mott stoves already possessed; and housewives could in any case cook in front of an open Franklin with a reflector oven or "tin kitchen"), Mott also made sure that it looked more like a Naylor.

Naylor's device was much simpler than Mott's -- though the above illustration shows its claim to be a patent product on the oven door, no stove patent was ever issued to Naylor (perhaps he applied for one unsuccessfully, but claimed the patent anyway, or in optimistic anticipation; or perhaps he had bought the right to use another, unknown, designer's patent?).  His was just an anthracite-burning grate, whose wide bars make clear that it was designed to use the larger sizes of coal, as most were at the time, with an oven and boiling-holes attached to the back of the fire and heated we know not how (i.e. it would be interesting to see a cross-section of the flues), or how effectively (he claimed to have made significant improvements in these respects over his previous year's model).  

Thomas Shaw (North Yarmouth, Maine)'s "Cooking Stove" Patent 9776X (1836) --
The best of the few surviving Oven Franklin patents, with a grate for coal or wood, and also a crane, so that the housewife could cook on it the old way as well as using the boiling holes and oven.  The flue arrangement is probably like Naylor's, though his is less of a transitional device.

What Mott had to do was to combine the innovative design elements of his stoves -- the self-feeder, the ability to burn cheap, smaller sizes of coal -- with a more conventionally attractive appearance than 7096X's or even 7910's, and at the same time work on perfecting the ease of manufacture and the durability of his stoves.  He was already making proper cooking stoves, with an oven and a number of boilers, but though they were capable of winning second prize in the 1834 American Insitute fair, none of them appear to survive, and available drawings of them are rather sketchy:

Even in this drawing, we can see the flaring jambs, the self-feeder [A], and the cooking-hole above the fire [B-C].  What this Mott stove, illustrated on p. 7 of his 1841 Description, possesses in addition is an oven, protected by firebrick from the intense heat of the fire, and heated by flues passing over and under it.  This was the conventional layout of a wood-fired step (alternatively horse-block, Jew's harp, or Premium) stove, of a kind manufactured in Vermont and Upstate New York since the 1820s.  Mott was later quite critical  of it.  In 1835, the first year they were "offered for sale in any quantity," the "ovens and fixtures ... were small, the fireplace large, and the castings rough and heavy.  This resulted from the lack of practical experience by the inventor, who was then a grocer" [see below].  But the "principle upon which they were constructed was good.... The faults ... were in form and arrangement, or the style of finish."  And on this imperfect foundation, rapidly improved, he would build his fortune.

It seems clear that the stove currently on sale is basically the front part of that 1835 cooking stove, but designed so as to compete with an Oven Franklin like Naylor's, in appearance at least, and thus to fit in the market niche intended for it.  It also includes features Mott did not introduce before 1835: casting the front in one piece, and ribbing the curved plate above the grate, to prevent cracking and warping.  When his 1833 patent stove was first introduced, the front plates were cast 

Mott, Description, p. 9.  The ribbed plate on the stove for sale is indeed held in place with a square nut. 

It seems obvious that what Mott is writing about above, and illustrating in Fig. 11, is almost the stove that is now on sale.  However, it lacks the self-feeder, and the large hole in the top plate is both for adding fuel to the fire or, with its cover removed, putting in large cooking pot to sit above the flames:

This may have had the virtue of simplicity, but it cannot have been very satisfactory -- even with a strong chimney draught, fumes from burning anthracite must have seeped into the kitchen (though of course Mott does not say so).  So it is understandable that, in a device intended for the kitchen or the parlor, Mott reintroduced all of the more advanced design features from his parlor and hall heating stoves, and also his proper cooking stoves (i.e. those with ovens).

This particular Mott stove was therefore not earlier than 1835, but also probably not much later.  That is because Mott's inventive energies took him in different directions from the middle of the decade onwards, as he experimented with a variety of idiosyncratic ways of making stoves, as he thought, better -- fabricating their bodies of cast-iron rings, bolted together (Heating Stove 8983X, 1835): decorating the rings with cast-iron leaves, making them less liable to crack, and more as efficient heat-transmitters (Stove and Fire Place, No. 50, 1836); making cheap cooking and heating stoves exactly similar in layout to the one on sale out of very complex one-piece castings (Stoves for Burning Anthracite, No. 292, 1837) -- as he explained, "[s]toves of this description have hitherto had the body and feeder cast in several distinct parts, which have afterwards, been joined together by screws, rivets &c." just like the stove we see before us.

[Described and illustrated in his 1843 catalogue as his "Cinder Burner, or Hard Coal Furnace"]

Figure 3 for Patent No. 50 seems to show a device that's a development on the one now on sale, both technically (the curved, leaf-hung body) and stylistically (the same classical columns, but a proper pediment, with brass finials at the corners probably masking the tops of the rods, rather than the earlier crude entablature).  But it possesses the the same key features, notably a (smaller) round cooking-hole towards the back of the top plate, and even some of the same lesser details, e.g. the distinctive legs.

So there we have it: the stove now offered for sale is a development from the first ones Mott made under his 1833 patent, and similar to, but somewhat less advanced than, those resulting from his 1836 and 1837 patents; which makes an 1835 date for it about as good a guesstimate as I can come up with.  

Why is the date significant, rather than merely interesting (or at least "interesting")?

Because it marked an important point in Mott's career as a stove inventor and manufacturer. After several years of experimentation, development, and small-scale production and sale, it was when Mott made the transition from being a grocer with an interest in the technology and business opportunities of the stove trade, into his new career as a very focused and successful stove maker and seller.  He had developed a range of products -- variations on the same basic design and ideas, but adapted for a variety of users and uses -- and he now determined to make them on a larger scale and sell them directly himself.  1835 was the first year when he started describing himself as a stove maker (rather than a grocer) in city directories, after he had opened his own workshop and store in Water Street, the heart of the city's stove district.

However, 1835 is also significant for what didn't happen then.  Mott later became renowned -- incorrectly -- as the man who set up the first stove foundry in America, i.e. as the first stove designer, maker, and seller who did his own casting, in his own specialized factory, rather than continuing to depend on the charcoal-fuelled blast furnaces of south-east Pennsylvania and south-west New Jersey for his plates, in the way that (almost) all of his competitors had done throughout the first generation of the industry's growth since the 1810s.  

But that important development still lay a couple of years in the future.  In 1835, when the Mott stove now on sale was probably made, or even in 1836, Mott continued to depend on the industry's traditional suppliers.  He later claimed that one of the reasons he soon decided to abandon them and do his own work was that their castings were rough, crude, and heavy. The quality of the stove now on sale suggests that he was, at the least, exaggerating; that, in fact, the blast furnaces were quite capable of producing fine work.  

And the significance of this is?  The historian (me) seeking to understand and explain Mott's (and others' -- he was either quickly imitated, or more likely he was just one of a number of stove makers who reached the same strategic conclusions, in much the same context, and therefore at more or less the same time) decision to set up his own stove foundry in about 1837 needs to do more than simply recycle, without criticism or addition, the story that has been in circulation since Mott himself started telling it between ten and fifteen years later. This old stove tells us that it was, at best, only partly true.

(3) Who was Jordan Mott, and what did he achieve?

A Google search for "Jordan Mott Coal Stove" throws up plenty of hits and lots of biographical information about him, much of it wrong -- sometimes as a result of misunderstanding of, or misquotation from, the few original 19th-century printed sources on which everybody has to rely, but also because of Mott's success in forging a rather exaggerated self-creation myth, part of which is noted above; one of his more enduring achievements.

Bishop, A History of American Manufactures (1866), Vol. 2, opp. p. 546.
Jordan Mott was born in 1798 to an old Long Island Quaker family who had moved to the city. His father Jacob was a prosperous wholesale grocer, alderman, and eventually deputy-mayor of the city; Mott Street is named after him.  Jordan was his parents' fourth and youngest son, and so sickly that his education was intermittent, and he was not trained for any career.  The future he had to look forward to, if he survived, was that of a rentier, but the wreckage of his father's business and fortunes in the depression that followed the War of 1812 compelled Jordan to enter trade in 1820, and when his father died in 1823 he became a grocer in his own right.  Biographies of Mott usually emphasized his experience of adversity in his youth, because this was such an important part of any self-respecting rags-to-riches story, and he had been born with an inconveniently large silver spoon in his mouth. However, even after his father's bankruptcy Jordan did not need to make his own way in the world unassisted: a friend supplied him with the start-up capital he needed.  In about 1826, with the first small coastal shipments of the new wonder fuel, Pennsylvania anthracite, beginning to arrive in the New York market, Mott embarked on a second and much more successful career, as a stove inventor, merchant, and eventually (after 1835) maker too -- something he pursued in parallel with, and supported by the profits of, his continuing business as a grocer.  

When Mott began to experiment with apparatus for burning anthracite better, and then to patent and build saleable designs on the basis of those experiments, he was not a lone pioneer, as his biographies might suggest -- sometimes by the bold expedient of moving the start date for his experiments back to 1819, well before anthracite was commercially available; but usually simply by ignoring the band of other local pioneers who accompanied him, and entirely overlooking anybody who did not happen to live and work on Manhattan. Mott was not even the first city resident to patent an anthracite stove; there had even been another Mott (Stephen, a brass-founder, i.e. a skilled cast-metal worker; I don't know what their relationship may have been, if any), in 1826, by which time established members of the New York City stove trade, serving the largest and most dynamic market in the country, were already advertising and selling their own devices adapted for anthracite-burning (see Postley and Wilson ads in this post).  In other words, Mott's choice of anthracite stoves as the subject on which to focus his mechanical and entrepreneurial skills was an intelligent decision to jump on an accelerating bandwagon, rather than an example of the sort of heroic leap of solitary genius that Victorian biographers (and, in Mott's case, autobiographers) chose to depict.  

After a couple of years of fruitless experimentation Mott did have a distinctive idea (though not, as he thought or claimed, unique -- it was just new in New York): to build stoves that would use small, cheap, and neglected sizes of anthracite coal, the by-products of an extremely inefficient and wasteful system of mining and transporting the new fuel from north-eastern Pennsylvania to its urban markets.  Mott's own earliest recorded account of his motivation (written in 1847, in connection with a patent suit, but not necessarily to be rejected for that reason alone) was that he was inspired by benevolence.  He wanted, he said, to work out how anthracite below the two-inch size later known as “egg,” down through “chestnut” and “pea” at least as far as “buckwheat,” and even including the unsaleable waste below a quarter-inch in size later known as “rice,” “barley,” and “culm,” could be exploited as a cheap source of fuel for the urban poor [p. 140]. 

Early anthracite users preferred to burn large sizes on their grates and stoves – lumps the size of a fist, or even larger, which would later be termed “broken” or “steamboat” coal, the next sizes up from egg, and even more expensive. Small coal did not burn well or at all in most of the appliances available at the time, and was accordingly either left in the mines, discarded en route to market -- even being used for landfill to extend Manhattan's waterfront out into the Hudson and East Rivers – or sold off very cheaply.  If Mott could create a demand for it he would also, of course, be making a business opportunity for himself, and not just as a stove maker.  He had certainly achieved his breakthrough by 1835, when he scored a commercial coup by buying cheaply mountains of discarded coal waste from the Schuylkill Navigation Company's yards in West Philadelphia, and shipping it to New York, where it now found a ready sale, and enabled Mott to make money twice over, by providing his customers with their fuel as well as with the appliances in which to burn it.

But reaching this point took years of costly effort.  In successive winters of experimentation between 1829 and 1832, Mott achieved his objective of discovering how to achieve easy, efficient, and sustained combustion of small coal, and began to shift his focus to a broader interest in how to make appliances that were more durable, simpler, and cheaper to manufacture. All this time Mott continued his principal business as a grocer, depending on that income to pay for his experiments.

And even after he had perfected his stoves he had another challenge to overcome: making and selling them.  According to his own account, this was not easy either. Like many pioneers, he “had to contend with the prejudices of the public against a new article.” There was also the question of how to get his products into the market. “As he was not a practical mechanic he had also to contend with superior skill and economy of manufacture” of the established stove makers, so his initial plan was to license his designs to them. “He offered the invention to some of the trade at their own or in fact without price, for a few years, but being unwilling to incur the expense of introducing a new article, or not appreciating its utilities, they declined to accept it upon any terms.” (His 1843 catalogue suggests that this lack of interest in his improvements only affected one product, a feature of a cooking stove, that he had not even invented, just perfected, and in the early 1840s, not the early 1830s; but by 1847 he had broadened and blurred his story, to make it seem as if he had met resistance from the beginning and across the board, which was not the case.)  He recalled that they viewed him “as an interloper, I was so called, but few of them would commune with or deal with me.”  (In fact, the trade, through the annual American Institute competitions, gave his products many prizes, and paid his ideas the biggest compliment -- they imitated them.)

Eventually -- and certainly not later than 1835, the year of our stove -- he began to get his own stoves made in the same way that they did, at the charcoal-fuelled rural blast furnaces of south-eastern Pennsylvania and south-western new Jersey, and opened his own premises alongside them, in Water Street on the Lower East Side, to compete against them directly in the same markets.  Mott did not just join this trade community of stove makers and sellers, he beat them at their own game, and survived the commercial vicissitudes of the late 1830s and early 1840s that destroyed so many of them, with the result that from 1844 onward the “interloper” became “the oldest wholesale manufacturer in the city.” [1847 deposition and 1851 letter to James R. Smith, chair of the American Institute's Premium Committee, reprinted in the Transactions of the American Instituteof the City of New-York, for the Year 1851 (Albany: C. Van Benthuysen, 1852), pp. 139-46, quotations pp. 142, 145.]

So Mott was no ordinary inventor, maker, and merchant, he was a particularly important and, in due course, successful one.  The stove now on sale comes from a critical period in his career, when he had just developed a broad product range of heating and cooking appliances, first opened his Water Street workshop and "ware-room" (retail and wholesale store), and was no longer describing himself in the city directory as a "grocer" (his listing until 1834) but instead taking his place among the city's dozen other stove, range, and grate manufacturers and dealers, a place which would soon be that of the leader of the pack.  

{Note: I know that this paragraph is a bit repetitive of something already stated, but as far as I am concerned it's in the nature of a blog post, or at least one of my blog posts, to be a bit of a working draft.  At some point I will probably come back to this and iron out the repetition, saying things just once, and in the right place; but at the moment I am not sure whether that is here or at the end of the previous section, so I will just leave both mentions in, for the  moment anyway.  It would help if I printed things out and did a final paper-edit, as with any "proper" publication, I suppose.}

The claims Mott made on his own behalf which, distorted and further exaggerated, litter the internet, and even serious works of quite recent academic history, which may be their sources -- notably that he invented the first anthracite-fuelled cooking stove, as well as opening the first stove foundry, to make it -- are certainly wrong, but in a sense this doesn't matter, if we decide not to get too hung up on claims to priority.  Mott occupied a prominent position among the first generation of American stove inventors and makers whose collective achievement was indeed the bringing to market, within a very few years in the first half of the 1830s, of efficient, effective, durable, affordable, desirable and usable heating and cooking appliances adapted to, or designed specifically for, the new fuel; and the stove on sale is certainly a good representative of them all.  As Mott wrote, "My object has ever been to make a stove that will meet the wants of the mass.  In getting up a new set of patterns, in all cases I aim to make the stove not only economical and efficient, but so simple in management, that the girl who arrives from Europe one day may use it the next." [p. 145]

Contemporaries were impressed by his contributions -- as the Commissioner of Patents, Edmund Burke, wrote in 1836, his inventions, the outcome of sustained empirical work, involved "a beautiful application of philosophical [i.e. in our terms, scientific] principles"; and as Charles S. Paige, the Principal Examiner of Patents, added in 1848, his success in enabling the efficient exploitation of small coal marked "a distinct era in fuel-saving" [emphasis in original]. [p. 143]  Philadelphia's prestigious Franklin Institute singled him out for special praise in 1845.  Awarding his stoves a First Premium at their Fifteenth Annual Exhibition, they added that his “ingenuity and perseverance ... in originating and introducing a variety of useful improvements and new principles of construction in stoves, [had] not only been creditable to himself, but [had] acted as an incentive to other stove makers to push forward in the race of competition” 
[p. 385]. If his informed contemporaries were so generous with their praise, we should certainly consent to echo it. 

Mott's Stove's offspring -- note the fuel feed-door and ribbed plate on the front; image used courtesy of the photographer, Jim Griffin of Forest Hills, NY; large version on Flickr.

(4) Why does any of this matter?

(A) The Man

Mostly, to be honest, because of the success of Jordan Mott's campaign of self-promotion. In 1835, when he made this stove, he was still just one among many New York stove inventors, manufacturers, and merchants.  But by the early 1840s he had survived the economic crises of the Van Buren years, built a succession of stove foundries, each one larger than its predecessor, and begun to carve out a national reputation for himself, not simply within his own trade, but as a politically active (he was a well-connected Democrat) advocate of the importance and therefore the rights of inventors in general.  Mott broadened out his own interests, still patenting improved stoves, but also devices for the booming railroad industry, e.g. the locomotive sand-box, to cope with wheel-slip when faced with oil and ice on the tracks (2228, 1841), and a new method of casting railroad car-wheels (5636, 1848); cast-iron furniture, to take advantage of the great new markets provided by urban mass education (4156, 1845) and other institutions (e.g. theaters) requiring lots of uniform seating (5317, 1847); and improved cast-iron bath-tubs (10049, 1853).  His stove foundry's product range became equally broad, as its name, the J.L. Mott Iron Works, and its increasingly large, diverse catalogues demonstrated.  Mott was not just an inventor and manufacturer, he was also a real-estate developer, a better route to riches in the booming metropolis.  In his case, the two businesses were connected, because when he built the third of his foundries in the 1840s, he did so on what was then the fringe of the city -- in the South Bronx, an area with excellent water and now railroad transportation links.  Mott did not just build a factory, he developed the community around it, which still bears his name: Mott Haven, then a prosperous new industrial suburb, now one of the most deprived urban neighborhoods in the United States.

All of this activity helped make Mott rich, with a fortune estimated in the mid-1850s at $500,000 (about $200 million in current money).  By then he had retired from day-to-day management of his firm, which was incorporated in 1853, and passed its direction on to an old collaborator, Augustus Weekes, and to his son, also called Jordan Lawrence Mott (b. 1829), who had just completed his four-year apprenticeship.  From then on Mott senior concentrated his attention on lobbying on behalf of his own and other patentees' interests, and on making his own reputation.  The fruits can be seen in the contemporary biographical compilations that published his own versions of his life and career, and have provided the first ports of call for almost all historians writing about him since his death: Moses Y. Beach's The Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of the City of New York (New York, 1855), pp. 54-55; and more particularly J. Leander Bishop's History of American Manufactures (New York, 1866), Vol. 2, pp. 546-548, a fuller account that has become the standard source.  

But probably the best indication of how Mott saw himself, and wanted to be remembered by posterity, is provided by one of the best-known group portraits of the nineteenth century: "Men of Progress: American Inventors" (1862) painted by Christian Schussele in response to Mott's commission.  Schussele painted two versions in oil -- the larger original now at Cooper Union in New York City, the smaller in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC -- and his friend John Sartain engraved the picture on steel so that it could be mass-produced to hang on the walls of middle-class households as an icon of American national character and greatness.  Mott invested a lot of money in this project -- $11,000 for Schussele, $3,000 for Sartain (altogether c. $4 million at today's values), but the result was worth it:

“Men of Progress: American Inventors” (1862), object number NPG.65.60, National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; original in Cooper Union, New York City.

In this picture of some of the greatest American inventors of the age -- Charles Goodyear, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel Morse, Samuel Colt, and others now almost forgotten -- gather in an imaginary conclave (they never met; Schussele worked from individual sittings and photographs) in the Great Hall of the US Patent Office, under the benevolent scrutiny of the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the wall behind them. At the back of the red cloth-covered table, behind Morse's wonderful electric telegraph, sit two elderly men, Jordan Mott himself on the left, the Reverend Dr Eliphalet Nott on the right. Mott's $14,000 had bought him his place in history, and the assurance of being remembered through the company he kept in this picture, as well as because of his own achievements.

Because of "Men of Progress" and also of the promotional biographies compiled by Beach and Bishop, as well as because of Mott's own earlier efforts at self-promotion (pamphlets, articles, patent suits that he could afford to win through exhausting his opponents' resources), Mott was able to create a history of stove invention with him rather closer to the front and center than he deserved to be, and from which most of his peers were excluded. This is a history long overdue for revision, but in the meanwhile Mott's self-created myth of his own importance lives on, and some of it attaches itself to this little stove.  

The opportunity for a museum to acquire it should be particularly welcome, because Mott's stoves are so poorly represented in public and private collections.  This is perhaps because they were not, frankly, very attractive to look at.  Mott's designs tended towards the utilitarian, and it's interesting that the only ones to figure in Peirce's Fire on the Hearth (1951), the nearest thing we have to a comprehensive handbook about stoves, are a couple of his durable, heavy space heaters, not anything as semi-graceful as his small "Franklin" now on sale.  (Peirce's account of Mott's work on pp. 131-3 is useful but a bit inaccurate.) 

(B) The Context

The small Mott stove now on sale also impresses me as a sort of emblem of two interlocking historical processes that are, frankly, much more important than the individual contributions of any one man.  It is a product of the "Anthracite Revolution" -- America's first fuel transition, when an economy still dependent on wood fuel and water power began to break free of the limitations on growth provided by these traditional and renewable sources of energy -- and of a generation of American inventors' responses to the opportunities it presented.  The key facts about this larger context in which Jordan Mott worked can be presented best in a couple of charts rather than in tons of dull numbers:

Anthracite Production, in tons 1820-1845 (solid line, LH axis) and
Anthracite Shipments to Tidewater via the Delaware & Hudson Canal, 1829-1845
(dotted line, RH axis)
As we can see, Jordan Mott began his experiments at almost the outset of the industry, and made his breakthroughs during its first boom, in the early 1830s.  Mining anthracite was easy, but getting it to market from the hills of north-eastern Pennsylvania required an immense investment in river improvements, canals, harbors, and eventually railroads.  A combination of two of these technologies (the Delaware & Hudson was a canal with a railroad for its most difficult, mountainous central section) was vital for bringing the new fuel into the Hudson Valley, from where it poured north to Albany, Troy, and the Erie Canal towns, and south to Manhattan.  Without all of these investments in fuel supply, inventors and entrepreneurs like Mott would not have focused their energies on devising, making, and selling constantly-improved appliances to burn it efficiently and help (in the first instance) city dwellers to lead more economical, comfortable, and convenient lives.  When Mott was doing his most creative work, the Hudson Valley was taking a larger share of Pennsylvania anthracite than ever before or afterwards -- about a quarter in 1833.

Stove Patents Issued in the United States, 1820-1845

Mott rode and contributed to the wave of stove invention sweeping across the north-eastern United States during Andrew Jackson's presidency, when there were more stove patents than ever before, and more (as a proportion of all US inventive activity, 10-12 percent, 1835-1837) than ever again.  And our little stove comes near the crest of this wave, just before the Panic of 1837 temporarily slaughtered the industry's market, and therefore the supply of new ideas.

So, whether as an emblem of the Anthracite Revolution, a relic of an extraordinary period of American inventiveness focused, successfully, on modernizing cooking and heating technology, or even as one of the last products of the charcoal-fuelled blast furnaces of south-eastern Pennsylvania and south-western New Jersey, which had supplied most of America's demand for stoves since the early eighteenth century, and would soon be displaced by urban foundries of the kind that Jordan Mott set up in the back yard of his Water Street premises in about 1837, this small, slightly battered old stove deserves a place in a museum collection.  Failing that, it is at least properly celebrated here and now, in this blog! 

HJH 14 Jan. 2014