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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.

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