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Monday, July 21, 2014

Overcoming Consumer Resistance to Anthracite, Grates, and Cooking Stoves: New York, Winter 1830-1831

This is from "A Citizen of the World" [James Boardman], America and the Americans (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1833), a sympathetic liberal Englishman's record of a two-year visit to the USA, 1829-1831.  

[p. 341The winter of [1830-1831] ... was considered unusually severe, and fuel in consequence rose to an extravagant price.  Many hundred loads of wood were gratuitously distributed by the authorities, and by humane individuals, to poor widows, almost the only description of persons who stood in need of assistance. 

Until very lately, wood was the only description of fuel consumed in New York ; but it is now being fast superseded by coal, although //p. 342 the prejudices of the people, in regard to the use of it for culinary purposes, have yet to be overcome. 

That these prejudices are somewhat formidable, will appear from the following circumstance, of which I was a witness, a short time before our departure from America. 

The use of coal requiring appropriate grates and culinary apparatus in lieu of the andirons or [fire-] dogs, the ironmongers were anxious to exhibit specimens of their skill in this novel department. 

One of these tradesmen had fitted up a kitchen grate and iron oven, which last article was also new to the Americans; and this important innovation upon old modes being advertised, a man was appointed to explain the mystery of their use. 

In vain did he assure some of the curious visiters (sic) that the famed sirloin might be roasted, a steak broiled, or a pie baked, so as to be palatable, upon such a system; and although this champion of the new regime freely referred to well known individuals in the city, as well as to the commanders of vessels trading to 
England, who could attest the truth of his assertions, it was evident that his hearers were somewhat dubious upon the subject, and //p. 343 that nothing less than a knife and fork demonstration of a sirloin, steak, and pie, so cooked, would remove their incredulity. To this striking instance of the force of long established 
custom, I may add, that even among the circle of our acquaintance, we found it no easy matter to gain credence to the assertion, that the flavour of meat roasted before a fire of coal, was in no respect inferior to that of meat which had undergone similar treatment before one of wood. 

The Americans, however, are so ready to adopt whatever is proved to be either nation ally or individually advantageous, that the reluctance I have alluded to cannot long exist; and as it is probable that a very considerable saving will be effected by the change in the description of fuel, the use of coal will, no doubt, supersede that of wood in those cities which have greater facilities for obtaining the former than the latter. 

The coal used in New York and Philadelphia is principally of a hard kind, denominated anthracite. It is difficult to ignite, but, when burning, has the appearance of red-hot stones, and gives out an intense heat without any 

This, and other descriptions, are found in  //p. 344 inexhaustible beds in the State of Pennsylvania; and, being at the surface, are easily procured. 

The coal is sent to New York by a canal which connects the great rivers Delaware and Hudson, the traffic by which is increasing with astonishing rapidity.


More along the same lines, from Jordan Mott, the most active inventor and promoter of anthracite stoves in New York in the 1830s (see "Jordan Moot's Anthracite Stoves" and ##) -- in his "Letter to J.R. Smith," Transactions of the American Institute of the City of New-York, for the Year 1851 (Albany: Charles Van Benthuysen, 1852), pp. 139-146 at p. 142:

When [he] had perfected and secured his invention, he had great difficulty to introduce it. He had to contend with the prejudices of the public against a new article.... Many persons could not be persuaded that a small quantity, of coal would afford more available heat than a larger quantity, whatever might be the construction of the furnace. Others would not use small coal; as late as 1835, a lady when informed by this deponent that she must use nut coal, refused to purchase his stove, saying that she would not have a load dumped at her door by day light, as it was a cheap coal fit only for the poor; at that date it was selling at about half the price of broken coal.
NOTES (tba)  

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