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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Nation of Stoves, Chapter 4 -- The Coming of Anthracite, c. 1820-1840

Another scintillating chapter title, but at least what you see is what you get.  This territory has now been covered, in their own different ways, both by Sean Adams [Home Fires: How Americans Kept Warm in the Nineteenth Century, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, esp. Ch. 2, "How Mineral Heat Came to American Cities"] and Christopher Jones [Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America, Harvard University Press, 2014, esp. Chapters 1-2], but I think there's still room for my take on things alongside them, because of my particular focus.

  • Introduction -- longer than usual, because the structure of the book is becoming more complex and thematic.
  • 4.1 Origins -- where the overlap with and dependence on the existing secondary literature is closest.
  • 4.2 Marcus Bull, Benjamin Silliman, and the Anthracite Campaign -- familiarizing new and potential consumers with anthracite and its benefits.
  • 4.3 Developing the Anthracite Cooing Stove : Philadelphia, c. 1824-1832 -- the other part of winning over consumers, i.e. giving them a choice of serviceable, affordable appliances in which to burn the new fuel; the work of the Franklin Institute and of local inventors, notably Powell Stackhouse, whose surviving business records I have also read.
  • 4.4 The Anthracite Market Spreads -- to New York City and State.
  • 4.5 Eliphalet Nott and the Anthracite Heating Stove -- episode #2 in the history of an inventor and his inventions.
  • 4.6 Jordan Mott and the New York City Market -- 
  • 4.7 Stoves and Anthracite in New England -- a detailed analysis of the extension of the (industrial) market for anthracite fuel, and the response of local inventors to the opportunities it presented.
There is no conclusion, and the chapter is a bit scrappy overall.  I was happy with the quality and adequacy of the research that went into it, and certainly thought and think that it has a necessary place in the larger scheme of the work.  But it's neither an easy nor a lively read, and when I finished it (leaving a few loose ends) my heart was sinking.  Any ambition I might have had to write the sort of book that ordinary members of the public (or at least, extraordinary ones -- stove buffs, early Americana enthusiasts) might wish to buy and read seemed to be being defeated by my ingrained habits of research and style of thinking and writing.  And yet the result was not the sort of ideas-rich scholarship that might impress a few professional peers.  It was narrative, descriptive, reconstructing the past but not engaging with the bees flying around in today's academics bonnets.

I'll have to re-read this, edit it, make sure I've taken full account of Sean's and Chris's work now that it's published.  But it's still more or less worth sharing now, even in its present state, with anybody who may be interested, if such a person exists.


Links to online content:
  • The full text of the Chapter 
  • The Bibliography -- this is new, and currently pretty rough, but it lists all of the sources, primary and secondary, cited in the text, and provides web links to copies, if available.  In due course I might integrate these into the text, but that's a long-term, rainy-day project.  In the meantime, this will serve.

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