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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Who Invented the Step (or Jews Harp, Premium, or Horseblock) Stove? {in progress}

This post is partly a product of my work on inventors and inventions in northern New England, because so many of them in the 1830s seem to have been inventing versions of the step stove and its near-relation, the elevated-oven stove (which I will also deal with here).  It's also born of a post in the "Iron Works!" Facebook group announcing the purchase of a very nice 1840s step stove, which set me thinking about where they all came from.

* * * 

What is a step stove?  It goes under many names, including (originally) the very plain and descriptive "three-boiler flat cook," and the more colloquial but equally descriptive "Jews Harp" and "Horseblock" (i.e. mounting block), and there are numerous design variations.  But basically it's a wood-fired cooking stove with the oven behind the firebox and raised slightly above it, surrounded by flue spaces on all sides.  The top plate has three or more cooking holes in it, at least two in front, immediately over the fire, and one or more behind, over the oven. The firebox is set at a right angle to the body of the stove containing the oven, so it takes quite long pieces of wood which can be fed in through the door on right-hand side.  The top and bottom plates of the stove have a characteristic kink or step in them to accommodate the change of level.  This is a good and clear early example of the type:

Joel Rathbone, Albany NY, "Jews Harp or Flat Cook Stove," Patent 8677X (1835).

Where did the step stove come from?  Probably the best place to begin is with the nine-plate or "Old Philadelphia"-style stove, still the most common cooking stove type in the 1820s, when the earliest step stoves were probably developed. As I have written elsewhere [Chapter Two and my "Plate Stoves" post], the Old Philadelphia had several limitations as a cook stove, not unexpected given that it was just a minor variation on a device originally intended just for room heating.  It was quite high and had a fairly narrow top, so it only offered a small working surface, with (usually) just one cooking hole.  It also forced cooks who were used to working stooped at an open hearth to lift their hot, heavy pots a long way from the floor or a nearby table with unassisted muscle power and without the help of the open hearth's swinging crane, and also to work around the hot stove-pipe, which was at the front of the top plate. The oven was quite small, and as it sat right over the fire, while the front plate radiated heat into the kitchen, it was also unevenly heated, so baking was at risk of being soggy on the bottom and burnt on top, unless the cook kept a very careful eye on it and moved it up or down, and forwards or backwards, during cooking.

For all of these reasons stove makers and designers aimed to improve it, particularly when the market for stoves began to extend beyond its traditional limits (Philadelphia and its hinterland).  They went down two largely separate paths.  The one which eventually produced the typical solid-fuel cooking appliance of mid-nineteenth through twentieth-century America, the downdraft or "revertible"-flue stove, started in the mid-teens but only began to deliver large numbers of practicable, widely marketable models in the late 1830s and 1840s.  (I may do a separate post about them, but until then look at the sections on Postley in this post and Hoxie here, as well as in Chapter Two.) Until then the other path was more productive.  It involved modest, incremental improvements to the familiar "Old Philadelphia" stove, of which the two most commercially successful were both invented in the Upper Hudson Valley, a region where demand for and manufacture of stoves were developing fast between the mid-teens and the mid-twenties.  One was the work of William James, originally of Union Village (now a part of Greenwich) and later Troy, NY; the other of John Conant of Brandon, VT.

The James "saddlebags" stove of 1815 was basically just an Old Philadelphia with two boiler holes and a larger, slightly more convenient working surface. The extra hole and extra space on top were provided by casting bulges in the sides of the stove (the "saddlebags"), and the smoke pipe was shifted from the front to the middle of the top plate.  The oven was accessed by a single forward-facing door rather than by doors on both sides, and the stove was also provided with dampers enabling the cook to direct the heat to one boiler, both, or the oven instead.  Finally, it had a large hearth with a recess in it covered by a sliding plate (a feature covered by an additional patent James took out in 1824).  The recess was used to rake ash from the fire, making it easier and cleaner to remove.  The hearth plate was also an important additional working surface -- a reflector oven ("tin kitchen") could be placed on it, to roast and bake in front of the fire; or, with live coals drawn forward into the recess and the cover removed, food could be toasted or grilled over the ashpit.    



The James stove was so successful that, for the rest of the decade, wood-cuts of what were obviously just minor variants of it were used by James's competitors to advertise their almost identical wares too, i.e. it became a generic type.

* * * 

John Conant's stove, patented 1823, was even more obviously just a modified nine-plate than James's, incorporating all of the key features of the saddlebags type, though with lower, more convenient boilers.  The extra feature that he added was a third large boiler hole at the rear of the stove, with its own independent fire (not shown in the engraving).  Because of its position it cannot have been very convenient to use, but it expanded the stove's cooking capacity, and the independent fire turned it into a particularly handy device in summertime or when only limited cooking facilities were wanted, so it helped to win him a region-wide market.


The challenge for other stove designers was to make something with at least as much cooking capacity as these two leading types and, ideally, more convenience for the rural household just beginning the transition from open-hearth cookery.  The answer was the three-boiler flat cook, seen in this 1836 advertisement alongside what seems to be a rather primitive version of a "saddlebags" (no ashpit and hearth slide).  Its anonymous designers had made a fundamental departure from the traditional stove layout: the firebox ran side-to-side rather than front-to-back; it was bulged out at both ends to take the two front boiler holes; the oven was behind and slightly above the fire, with the single large boiler hole relocated from the back of the stove in a Conant to the top above the oven.  The stove was also much lower than an "Old Philadelphia," James, or even an 1823 Conant, and the two front boilers were particularly low and close to the hearth plate, thereby requiring the least amount of heavy lifting.  An advantage of the new firebox arrangement was that wood could be fed through a door in its right-hand side, leaving the front hearth free for cooking, whereas in an Old Philadelphia, James, or Conant stove there was just the one firebox door opening directly onto the hearth.  As we can see, by 1836 the stove had also acquired its third alternative name, the "Premium," which was either a bit of makers' boastfulness or perhaps a recognition of this stove type's ability to win prizes at county agricultural fairs, where its cheapness and simplicity appealed strongly to its intended customers.

Advertisement, Troy Daily Whig ## 1836, p. ##.

* * *

Who invented the step stove, and when?  There is no clear evidence.  It's not simply that most (78 of 95) stove patents of the 1820s, including James's and Conant's, were lost in the Great Fire at the US Patent Office in 1836 and not restored.  This was also before the development of the technical press (particularly the Journal of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia), which reported extensively on new patents and therefore fills some of the gaps from the late 1820s through the early 1830s.  So for most of the patents of the 1820s all we have left is the barest outline -- when they were issued, to whom, residing where, and a title that is sometimes useful but often not.  None of those whose text and/or drawings survive looks like even a remote ancestor of the step stove, and none of the lost patents has a descriptive title that makes it seem a likely candidate either.  

The patent record becomes much richer in the new decade.  Right at its outset rural inventors made successful efforts to produce serviceable stoves providing plenty of cooking surface closer to the ground than in an Old Philadelphia, Saddlebags, or Conant stove.  Two early examples are both from New Hampshire -- John Moore's "Cooking Stove" 5951X of 1830 and Thomas Woolson's 6655X of 1831. Moore's had a stepped top with two small boilers and one larger, right over the fire, and an oven at the back; but its shape showed its origins as just another modification of the Old Philadelphia ovoid stove rather than a prototype for the newer style.  Woolson's was certainly a flat stove, and it also had three boilers, but in other respects it was quite different from the Jews Harp (etc.) stoves that were soon to be so common, because the oven was alongside the firebox, and his stove was almost square, not the Jews Harp, Premium, or step stove's distinctive shape -- wide at the front, then narrowing, and usually sitting on just three legs, hence the name Jews Harp.  Both of these are probably best thought of as independent attempts to meet the same set of consumer requirements as the step stove, but in ways that did not catch on or meet with so much imitation. 

But then in 1832 we begin to get several patents all of which make clear that they are improvements on the step stove, which they already treat as an established type.  There is other evidence that the design had emerged by then. In October 1833, at the start of the peak season for stove sales, 
A.H. Austin announced that his Albany "Stove Factory and Kitchen Furniture Warehouse" carried "a great variety of Stoves of the most approved patterns," including "oval nine plate stoves, of plain boiler tops; three boiler cook stoves [Conant's?]; James's improved round boiler do. [ditto, i.e. cook stove, both illustrated with woodcuts at the head of the advertisement, i.e. still the leading items]; Richards' patent alterable cooking and franklin do. designed either for coal or wood; door franklins of all sizes, hall stoves, box do., six plate do., coal stoves in great variety, for stores or offices, parlour do., jews-harp do." [Albany Evening Journal, 23 Oct. 1833, p. 1.]  This gives a useful illustration of the range of stove types available at the time in the most important market for upcountry New England, upstate New York, and the lakeshore states to its west, on the brink of a great upsurge in inventive activity that would propel many new models into that market.  It also confirms that the step or jews harp stove was already established among standard stove models, and consumers were expected to be able to recognize it by its name alone, needing no further explanation. 

Back to the original question, then: who invented it?  It seems that the step stove's inventor for some reason failed to patent it.  This suggests one possibility to me: that the stove was a logical development of the Conant stove (three boilers, low down, one of them large, plenty of working surface), whose patent was still in force.  We do not know what that patent said, but it's possible that its claims may have been sufficiently broad for Conant and his sons not to think it necessary to take out another one.  Alternatively, by that time they had established themselves in a region-wide market, and did not have the same need for a patent as both an advertising ploy and tool for market-protection as newer or smaller makers, or inventors whose product was the patent, whose manufacturing rights they intended to sell to others.  Studying the hundreds of stove patents take  out in the industry's opening decades, it may often seem as if every new or imitative design or minor improvement found its way to the Patent Office, but in fact most of the myriad stoves produced at this time didn't seek or qualify for such protection.

That argument can only be speculative, though it's at least plausible.  Conant was the leading stove maker in upper New England at the time, the area where other men quickly began to attempt to improve upon the step stove.  Those who patented their improvements generally made marketable products themselves, and within a very few years succeeded in perfecting the step stove into a mature, durable design.  The first of these improvements led to a new and briefly important variant, the rotary stove, explicitly compared with the three-boiler type in contemporary advertisements (A. Randol & Co. advertisement, Newburgh Telegraph 11 Sept. 1834, p. 2 and 30 Oct. 1834, p. 2).

Stanley Stove with Elevated Oven, Henry Ford Museum --
from Bryan & Evans, Henry Ford's Attic (1995), p. 264.

It was only when I re-read Henry Stanley's patent in the context of all of the other inventive activity going on in northern New England at the time that I fully appreciated that his innovation was really just a development from or variation of the flat-top stove, with an oven behind the firebox "constructed ... in the common way."  It responded to the same implicit design brief -- the low, crank-operated revolving top made it easier for the cook to take full advantage of the four boiler holes (two large, two smaller) without too much lifting.  And it had the standard shape -- the wide firebox and narrow back part, with just three legs, hence the "Jews Harp" name.

After Stanley's there were many other improvements and variations, in both the step stove proper and its rotary offspring.  Some of the former were very idiosyncratic and probably nothing more than "paper patents" (i.e. not practicable or saleable designs), so I will only include the more obviously relevant here.

Town, Elisha. Montpelier, VT. Stove, Cooking. 7871X. 1833. 

"Elisha Town's Improved Crane Stove."  The drawings are of the revised (1836) version of his patent including a removable furnace (for charcoal or, more probably, anthracite) fitting underneath the oven.  This was designed, though the patent was silent about its purpose, to enable the oven and large rear boiler hole to be used in summer, with less fuel consumption and a correspondingly reduced amount of heat in the kitchen than if the main fire had to be lit -- as in the original Conant stove.  

The distinctive features of the original and improved versions of the Crane Stove were the swinging covers, or "cranes," for the front two boiler holes.  They served a similar purpose to the turntable top on Stanley's stove, allowing the cook to regulate the heat applied to a vessel by moving it closer to or further away from the fire.  Apart from these, Town's was a pretty standard step-stove, apart perhaps from the double plates, with an air gap between them, at the front of the oven.  The intention of these was to prevent a hot spot within the oven, and reduce the problem of burning out of the oven plate immediately behind the fire, a weak spot in any stove design.  Other step-stove designers in the 1830s attempted to achieve the same object with slightly different means of reinforcing and/or insulating the vulnerable plates.  Stanley used firebrick in his rotaries designed for anthracite fuel, and also made the back plate in two parts so that the section that burnt out more often could be easily replaced; others generally used variations on Town's air gap. 

Stewart, Philo Penfield.  Elyria, OH.  Cooking Stove. 8275X.  1834.

The text of the patent survives, but not the drawing.  For Stewart and the context for this invention, see this post -- he was a native of Vermont, and evidently very familiar with the newest designs reaching the Ohio lakeshore from Albany and Troy along the Erie Canal.  His "Oberlin Stove" had all of the expected features, and some that were Stewart's original ideas -- "a fire chest, a grate [in Stewart's case probably for the more efficient combustion of wood rather than for burning coal], an ash pit, a hearth with an indenture [for broiling], five appertures (sic) for boilers &c, a warming arch, an oven, two flues and a funnel [smoke pipe]."  

Stewart's stove was a sort of extreme step stove -- the bottom of the oven was elevated 10" above the bottom plate of the fire box, much more than in Town's the previous year or in any subsequent patented or marketed design, which was probably his simple solution to the problem of burning out the back plate of one and the front plate of the other, by separating them much more than usual. Stewart did not let the heat radiated from the back of the firebox go to waste -- the space behind it and below the bottom of the oven was his "warming arch," a sort of secondary oven.  He also included many other characteristically smart ideas, as well as two more boiler holes than the standard step stove, and an easy way of turning the front three holes into a single larger one; a single damper to control oven heat; wrought-iron handles for the boiler hole covers, attached near the edge, so leaving the flat surfaces free to use for cooking using any flat-bottomed vessel that did not need to sit in the hole for direct contact with the heat of the fire.  

Parker, Sylvester.  Troy, NY.  Three-Boiler Flat Cooking Stove.  8602X. 1835.

What was most distinctive about Parker's patent was the detailed explanation he gave about how step stoves were usually constructed, what was wrong with them (the vulnerability of the front oven plate to the heat and flames of the fire), and how he intended to remedy the problem.  

Parker's answer to this common problem involved the kink A in the bottom plate of his stove, which meant that the hottest spot at the back of the firebox was able to radiate heat down towards the floor.  This was the same idea as Stewart had patented the previous year, but implemented in a less radical fashion: the base plate of Parker's stove was still flat, as in earlier, more fallible [and now lost] unpatented versions of the three-boiler stove.  There was also a ventilated, insulating air chamber [not shown in his drawings, which could be fuller and clearer] in the space a.a.a. between the back of the firebox and the front of the oven, to serve the same purpose as Town's. 

Parker's design innovations seem to have served their purpose; at least, the inventor had confidence in them.  When his stoves were offered for sale in 1834, i.e. before the patent was issued, as with Stanley -- he offered a $500 reward, an enormous sum at the time, to "any person who can make a better stove."  His was "Warranted superior to any stove before in use, in point of utility, simplicity, durability, and economy."  If it did not live up to this recommendation, "no sale," i.e. a money-back guarantee, probably not worth much at law, but a good selling-point regardlesss in the booming, increasingly competitive Hudson Valley stove market.  Parker's was "superior to any thing ever offered to the public."  [Newburgh Telegraph, 2 Oct. 1834 -- the claims his dealer made on his behalf were quickly answered by the agent for one of his rivals, who offered $2,000 for "the invention of a stove equal or superior to the rotary stove."  Parker's "later patent" was the only one of "all previous patents" that was explicitly invited to enter the competition, though it was open to all comers.]


Rathbone, Joel.  Albany, NY.  Jews Harp or Flat Cook Stove.  8677X.  1835.

Rathbone was the largest stove trader in Albany and, reputedly, the entire United States, who was becoming increasingly involved in manufacturing his own stoves rather than buying in the unassembled plates from the stove furnaces of southwestern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, which was still the normal business model.  His patent included the curving back plate for the bottom of the firebox from Parker, and the bottom step already seen in Town's and Stewart's rather than the old flat bottom plate.  He dispensed with the problematic back plate of the firebox altogether, and substituted a ventilated, insulating air chamber like Town's at the front of the oven, i.e. his stove was a combination of other people's good ideas, which he had the resources enabling him to turn into a product that he could manufacture and sell cheaply and on a large scale.  It would, he claimed, answer all of the "inconvenience" that had "arisen in the use of said Stoves on account of the waste of heat the burning out of the guard or front oven plate and the unequal distribution of heat through the oven."

Arnold, Willard A. Northampton, MA.  Stove, Cooking.  9722X. 1836.

"Arnold's Yankee" had all of the standard features of the type -- three or more legs; four or five boilers; a large sunk hearth; a ventilated, insulating double front plate to the oven; dampers in the oven flues, to enable the user to direct the fire under the boilers or under the oven.  Its one peculiarity was the provision of two or three rear boiler holes, of different sizes, raised above the top plate of the stove as in rotaries, with flue channels to ensure the rear boiler was adequately heated.  According to William Keep, Arnold's key innovation was the way he had arranged the oven dampers -- he had worked out the ideal, lasting arrangement, "the dampers of the step stove of today," and brought the type "to its perfected state," still sold by the thousand in the early twentieth-century South, where consumers still appreciated its simplicity.  [Keep, "History," p. 105.]

Spaulding, Samuel Brown. Brandon, VT. Stove, Cooking. No. 83. 1836.

Spaulding's was another modified step-stove with a few distinctive features:

(a) the four boiler holes were made from concentric rings of cast iron so that they could take pots of different sizes -- a common and very useful feature at the time, when households had a mixture of new and old utensils which had not yet been sized uniformly to fit in e.g. 7" or 9" holes; 

(b) the drawing does not show this, but between each pair of holes there was a removable cross-piece, enabling a large oval water boiler to be inserted with both covers removed too (this may have been a case of independent invention, or at least innovation, of a design idea also seen in Stewart's stove, and which became a common feature of stove-top layout); 

(c) Spaulding had his own solution to the "burning out of the front oven plate" problem, a removable heavy plate [in the top drawing]; 

(d) he made the front door of his firebox from sliding slats, EE and FF in their open and closed positions, to control the draft and also permit a "pleasant and cheerful" view of the fire if wanted.  This was a cheaper and more durable solution than the alternative adopted in late models of the Woolson stove, to have mica windows.  Finally, 

(e) he had his own mechanical answer to the problem of varying the amount of heat applied to cooking utensils in the front two boiler holes over the fire.  In Town's Crane Stove they could be swung away from the fire; in Spaulding's the fire itself could be raised or lowered by his rack-and-pinion mechanism.

Spaulding's stoves were made and sold, but, unlike Rathbone and Arnold, but like Town, he had added unnecessary mechanical complication to an appliance whose attraction was its simplicity and therefore comparative cheapness as a stove for wood-burning rural households.  

The same can be said for W. Parmalee of Watervliet, NY (just across the Hudson from Troy), whose "Cooking Stove" 9889X of 1836 was an otherwise-standard step stove with a curious arrangement (whose explanatory text does not survive) of a divided hearth with two sliding plates holding what look like small fire-pots.  My guess is that this was a "summer arrangement" for doing limited cooking in the hot months, rather than a permanent substitute for a proper firebox.  But it wasn't something that caught on.

After 1836, few inventors paid much attention to improving what was by then evidently recognized as a mature stove type, with a settled design.  In 1837 Samuel Utter, a New York stove dealer, patented one for anthracite, with an insulated bottom plate for the oven  (No. 349).  In 1839 Noble Peck, of Carmel, NY, patented an otherwise unremarkable step stove, "put together in the ordinary mode," with a couple of minor modifications to improve the usability of the front hearth for cooking (No. 1352).  The same year, Micah Ketcham and William Wheeler of Boston reinvented Spaulding's arrangement for raising and lowering the fire using a rack-and-pinion mechanism forcing them to increase the distance between the floor and the base plate, and thus the overall height of the stove (No. 1419).  They were no more capable than Spaulding had been two years earlier of persuading others that this was a necessary or useful innovation.  

TBA -- updated 27 April 2015.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stove Inventors and Invention in Northern New England: A Summing-Up {in progress}

The last several posts all began with an old Charles Woolson stove (or maybe it was a skillet?) seen in an American collectors' and enthusiasts' Facebook group.  I knew Woolson's name from my stove patents database, but though I assumed he was probably a relative of Thomas Woolson, the pioneer New Hampshire stove maker and inventor, I knew nothing about him or his firm, and little about old Thomas's either.  So I started looking, and the rest is (several chunks of) history, of a kind -- about Charles, his daughter, his father, their lives and work.

After writing the three posts with a biographical focus, I thought that I wanted and needed to know something more about the context in which old Woolson worked, hence the post about other New Hampshire stove inventors and inventions.  And with that under my belt, I decided that I might as well do the same job on the two neighbouring states, so that I could see what was similar, what was different, and perhaps try to work out why.

So what I have been doing for the last few weeks, off and on, is research (or at least "research") driven by nothing much stronger than curiosity.  But I'm enough of a former academic historian to know that merely digging up and presenting facts and stories isn't really enough.  It's necessary to step back from the data and think about what, if anything, it says, and why the reality it relates to took the shape that it did.

Normally, proper historical research will start with some questions or hypotheses, because it will be driven not just by curiosity about the past but also by a desire to participate in a sort of conversation with other historians who have written about related phenomena.  In fact, the cases chosen for study will often be selected, amongst other reasons, for their likely ability to cast light on the questions of interpretation and explanation animating that scholarly conversation, and which are really the driving forces of the work.

But that's not the way I have approached this task, and I'm neither very familiar with nor especially interested in any particular historians' conversations about, say, the industrialization of New England, that might provide a framework of questions for me to use here.  So what follows is not really, even approximately, a proper academic historian's summing-up.  It's much more tentative and amateur than that -- merely an attempt to pull together some of the threads of the three state case-studies.

* * *

First of all, a few numbers.  Why would I not have thought of northern New England as a promising place to look for stove inventors and inventions?  Partly because I knew (or, see below, "knew" i.e. thought, but without checking the evidence first) that they were not very numerous, and, except for a very few (John Conant and Henry Stanley of Vermont, perhaps Thomas Woolson himself), they did not seem to have contributed much either to the development of cooking and heating stoves as bits of domestic technology, or to the extension of the market for them in the 1820s and 1830s.  Even Conant and Woolson were at best regionally, perhaps just locally important, and their contributions had almost ceased by the mid- to late-1830s.  The story of stoves and their industry that I told in Chapters 1 through 3 of my "book" was therefore mostly a mid-Atlantic one, with products and their consumption spreading from an area of origin in the Philadelphia hinterland north-east among the towns and cities of the Atlantic Seaboard, and the centres of invention and production following the market to New York and the Hudson Valley.

But it's (almost) always helpful to do a bit of explicit quantification, if the numbers are available.  So here are the totals for Class 126 (Heating and Cooking Appliances) patents taken out in the U.S. between 1810 and 1860.  These numbers include all of the numerous patents that were unoriginal, impracticable, and commercially insignificant, as well as the small minority contributing directly to the development of the major stove types (cooking stoves, parlor stoves, furnaces) that filled the national market by mid-century.  But they are at least a starting-point.

US Total91863975771139
Rhode Island11643
Sn. New England231511078149
% US25%17%28%14%13%
New Hampshire3527326
Nn. New England610641955
% US7%12%16%3%5%
New York3833146268503
New Jersey128811

% US62%65%49%59%65%

As we can see, at least in terms of these raw numbers, perhaps I was wrong to neglect the inventors of northern New England?  There were always far fewer of them than there were New Yorkers, or even their southerly Yankee neighbors, but their share of inventive activity more than doubled between the 1810s and the 1830s.  So one way in which one could read these data is that something interesting was going on: an area where stoves were only beginning to be adopted in the 1820s and 1830s was the scene of a very substantial increase in recorded inventive activity at the very same time.  Only after the 1830s did this region move back towards the margins of a maturing market for technology which was by then even more centred in New York State than it had been.  New York went from generating just 2.3 times as many stove patents as northern New England in the 1830s, to 14 times as many in the 1840s, a figure it had never achieved before.

The record of patenting activity is quite suggestive by itself, but of course the above table raises an immediate and obvious question: what can we relate it to?  To states' population, perhaps?  Are New York's 503 recorded patents in the 1850s, for example, more than you might expect if inventive behaviour was evenly spread across the United States, and if so, how much more?

(In the following table, the second row in each state's or region's entry is its population growth rate since the previous census -- in Connecticut, for example, a mere 4 percent in the 1800s.  The third row gives the state's or region's share of the national population total.)

1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860
Connecticut 261,942 275,248 297,675 309,978 370,792 460,147

4% 5% 8% 4% 20% 24%

3.6% 2.9% 2.3% 1.8% 1.6% 1.5%
Rhode Island 76,931 83,059 97,199 108,830 147,545 174,620

11% 8% 17% 12% 36% 18%

1.1% 0.9% 0.8% 0.6% 0.6% 0.6%
Massachusetts 472,040 523,287 610,408 737,699 994,514 1,231,066

12% 11% 17% 21% 35% 24%

6.5% 5.4% 4.7% 4.3% 4.3% 3.9%
Southern New England 810,913 881,594 1,005,282 1,156,507 1,512,851 1,865,833
Decadal Increase 9% 9% 14% 15% 31% 23%
Share of US 11.2% 9.1% 7.8% 6.8% 6.5% 5.9%








41% 8% 19% 4% 8% 0%

3.0% 2.4% 2.2% 1.7% 1.4% 1.0%
New Hampshire 214,460 244,161 269,328 284,574 317,976 326,073

17% 14% 10% 6% 12% 3%

3.0% 2.5% 2.1% 1.7% 1.4% 1.0%
Maine 228,705 298,335 399,455 501,793 583,169 628,279

51% 30% 34% 26% 16% 8%

3.2% 3.1% 3.1% 2.9% 2.5% 2.0%
Northern New England 661,060 778,477 949,435 1,078,315 1,215,265 1,269,450
Decadal Increase 35% 18% 22% 14% 13% 4%
Share of US 9.1% 8.1% 7.4% 6.3% 5.2% 4.0%







Decadal Increase 19% 13% 18% 14% 22% 15%
Share of US 20.3% 17.2% 15.2% 13.1% 11.8% 10.0%

New York 959,049 1,372,812 1,918,608 2,428,921 3,097,394 3,880,735

63% 43% 40% 27% 28% 25%

13.2% 14.2% 14.9% 14.2% 13.4% 12.3%
New Jersey 245,562 277,575 320,823 373,306 489,555 672,035

16% 13% 16% 16% 31% 37%

3.4% 2.9% 2.5% 2.2% 2.1% 2.1%
Pennsylvania 810,091 1,049,458 1,348,233 1,724,033 2,311,786 2,906,215

34% 30% 28% 28% 34% 26%

11.2% 10.9% 10.5% 10.1% 10.0% 9.2%
Delaware 72,674 72,749 76,748 78,085 91,532 112,216

13% 0% 5% 2% 17% 23%

1.0% 0.8% 0.6% 0.5% 0.4% 0.4%
Maryland 380,546 407,350 447,040 470,019 583,034 687,049

11% 7% 10% 5% 24% 18%

5.3% 4.2% 3.5% 2.8% 2.5% 2.2%
MID-ATLANTIC 2,087,376 2,772,594 3,664,412 4,604,345 5,990,267 7,571,201
Decadal Increase 42% 33% 32% 26% 30% 26%
Share of US 28.8% 28.8% 28.5% 27.0% 25.8% 24.1%

Of course, any assumption that some fairly exceptional behaviour -- stove patenting -- should have been evenly spread across the country would be pretty ludicrous.  But at least the above table allows us to do a simple calculation: the Northern New England states had, in the 1830s, roughly half the population of New York State (their share of the U.S. total population fell from 7.4 percent to 6.3 percent between the 1830 and 1840 censuses, while New York State's was more stable at 14.9 to 14.2 percent), and recorded roughly half as many stove inventions (64 to 146). In these terms, at least, this peripheral region's inventors and entrepreneurs were punching only a little below their weight in the 1830s, but more or less abandoned the fight in the 1840s.  So this is probably what we need to focus on explaining: the great increase in inventive activity in the 1830s, and then its sudden collapse.

As anybody who may have read the three state studies will realize, the table also includes what I think of as key information helping to define and explain states' and regions' membership of the core and the periphery of the emerging American industrial economy, their rates of population growth and therefore new household formation.  The Mid-Atlantic region, and particularly New York State, was an area of spectacular and sustained population growth -- especially impressive for a region of mature settlement.  New York's population was growing almost explosively, even faster than the nation as a whole until the 1830s (U.S. figures, for comparison: 1800s 36 percent, 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s 33 percent, 1840s and 1850s back up to 36 percent).  Across New England, population growth lagged far behind -- a combined effect of the demographic transition to smaller family sizes, lots of out-migration, and very little inward migration until the "coming of the Irish" and other new western Europeans in the 1840s and 1850s.  Within New England, one can see the clear impact of industrialization in reversing the course leading towards a stagnant population, starting in Massachusetts in the 1820s, and beginning to affect Connecticut and Rhode Island in the 1840s and 1850s.  But in northern New England there was no such reversal: instead, rates of population growth continued along a downward path, even more in New Hampshire and Vermont than in Maine.

Manufacturers and entrepreneurial inventors living in northern New England in the 1820s and 1830s thus confronted a local market for new and more efficient cooking and heating appliances that sent them very mixed signals: 
  • On the one hand, consumers were beginning the process of conversion from reliance on the open fireplace to the stove and/or furnace for their cooking and comfort.  As a result, artisans, merchants, professional men and other enterprising tinkerers were becoming familiar with different kinds of stoves, and optimistic about their abilities to make money by contributing their own improvements.  The market thus provided both the incentives and some of the means (information, experience) required to encourage and enable men living in the small commercial and local manufacturing towns and villages scattered across the more developed regions of these states to fancy their chances as stove inventors.  In the 1830s, the bandwagon was rolling, and in the "Age of Democratic Invention" almost anybody seemed to be able to climb on.
  • But on the other hand local manufacturing capabilities were very limited, except perhaps in the iron district of southern Vermont; and markets were comparatively small too.  In the parts of these states with better -- which, until the 1840s, meant water-borne -- transportation, like south-eastern New Hampshire, or much of southern Maine, or Vermont along the Champlain canal corridor, any large-scale demand for stoves that developed could be met more easily by importing them from established and increasingly efficient production centres than by attempting to compete in making them locally.  Only the Vermont iron furnaces managed, for a while, to overcome the limitations of their location, and even to ship stoves in large numbers to buyers beyond their own state.  But by the early 1840s, at the latest, the transportation facilities that had enabled them to do this were serving instead to flood their local markets with cheaper and more advanced Hudson Valley stoves. Thomas and Charles Woolson's achievement was more modest, and Elijah Skinner's even more restricted: they serviced small-scale markets in their state's interior within a couple of days' wagon-trip of their foundries, and for them the window of opportunity swung shut between the Panic of 1837 and the end of the decade.
Stove invention and, to a lesser extent, manufacture and commercial sale were thus phenomena confined to the early phases of the development of local markets for new cooking and to a much lesser extent heating appliances in northern New England in the 1820s and particularly the 1830s.  But by the early 1840s the hopes of wealth that had moved so many Yankees to jump on the stove invention bandwagon in the mid-1830s had been disappointed, and the maturing local markets for stoves and furnaces were no longer being satisfied to any considerable extent by local manufacturers.  Transportation improvements -- the beginning of the Railway Age -- only guaranteed that these peripheral regions would turn into consumers of products and ideas developed elsewhere, and in the 1840s local invention and manufacture collapsed together, leaving little trace behind.

* * * 

Thus far, this analysis has focused on aggregated data, particularly state totals and shares of inventive activity by decade.  Disaggregating these data and using annual figures instead sheds further light on what was going on in northern New England, particularly in the couple of years before the Panic of 1837 punctured the bubble of "irrational exuberance" that stimulated so many Yankee amateur or first-time and one-off patentees to try their hand at stove invention as a path to wealth.

In fact, much of the apparent surge in inventive activity during the 1830s was a result of a very short-term phenomenon.  There were not many more stove patents taken out in northern New England in the first half of the 1830s (19) than in the 1820s.  But more (37) were taken out in 1835 and 1836 than in the entire period since 1810 (35).  After that, the decline was immediate and precipitous -- just 8 new patents across the region in the rest of the decade, 15 in the first half of the 1840s, and a mere 7 in the second half.  The stove-patenting boom of the mid-1830s was a national (or at least north-eastern states) affair, but it was participated in much more enthusiastically by northern New Englanders than by anybody else.  In the peak year, 1836, they contributed 28 percent of all stove patents taken out in the entire United States.  From the trough (1828) to the peak (1836) of the stove patenting cycle, the number of patents taken out in the rest of the United States increased from 8 to 58, i.e. by a little over 7 times; in northern New England, the comparable figures were 1 and 23.  Until 1834, the increase in stove patenting activity within this small region and in the rest of the United States was taking place at almost exactly the same rate.  Then, for two years, northern New England experienced its greatest burst of enthusiasm for the new technology, before following the rest of the United States down the pan during the years of depression and uncertainty that followed.  When the rest of the nation began a sustained recovery in 1843, and stove inventors once again took their ideas and their optimism to the Patent Office, northern New Englanders did not rejoin the parade.

Total number of Stove Patents taken out in (i) all states [black line, LH axis], (ii) all states except Northern New England [red line, LH axis], and (iii) Northern New England [blue column, RH axis -- sorry, can't get scale to show, but it runs from 0-25 i.e. there's 8x amplification ].  Emphasizes the extent to which the stove patenting boom of 1835-1836 was disproportionately a Northern New England phenomenon, and the post-1842 hiatus.

Another way of disaggregating the data, within Northern New England, is by state, just looking at the number of stove patents taken out in the peak years and those either side:

New Hampshire

The table seems to convey a paradoxical message: the greatest contribution comes from Maine, the state with the smallest impact on stove development (because most Maine patents were unoriginal, impracticable, uncommercial, or all three, and there was hardly any local manufacturing industry); the smallest from Vermont, the only state with a proper stove industry rather than just a few scattered manufacturers, and the only one whose stove inventors came up with ideas and designs (notably the rotary) that had any significant impact beyond the state boundary; with New Hampshire in the middle position.

What this suggests to me is that stove invention in Northern New England was of course a market-responsive phenomenon, and as in the rest of the United States it was strongly pro-cyclical.  But it was also very reflective of local cultures, and in particular of the way that a variety of middling citizens in communities on the edge of the emerging Northern market became swept up in a region-wide enthusiasm for invention and money-making at the height of two interconnected booms: in the Jacksonian economy; and in Americans' first large-scale encounter with the new domestic technology of cooking and comfort.  The improved stoves that provincial amateurs, first-time and one-off inventors claimed to have thought up may not have had any economic or technological significance; but the fact that they did so remains interesting as a symptom of their communities' early experience with and engagement in this aspect of modernity.  Not very clearly or elegantly expressed, but this is the best sense I can make of the evidence before me.

After reading back through the three state studies, having done a close study of all of their surviving patents, one of the things that interests me is therefore what it tells me about the world their authors inhabited.  I have read plenty of old patents in the past, but I have concentrated on those I knew (or "knew") to be more significant, perhaps because William Keep's old study told me so, or because the men behind them created major businesses (a sort of "dollars and survival" test of which inventions were "fittest"), or because they pointed clearly towards what turned out to be the mature technology of the solid-fuel cooking and heating stoves of mid-century and after.  (These three selection criteria are in practice overlapping.)  Reading everything, including the truly bizarre, is instructive in a different way.  It has brought up, for example, all of the patents which were for improvements to the old technology -- the open fireplace -- rather than, or as well as, what replaced it; all of the patents for transitional or hybrid devices, fire-frames and Franklin stoves with cooking appliances attached; all of the early attempts to build, in small-town New England, something similar to, and ideally competitive with, the better realized products of the emerging Hudson Valley stove industry.  I can't think of a better approach to stripping the "size," "success," "survival," "contribution," and "significance" biases out of my approach to the history of this technology than what I've almost accidentally come to do over the past few weeks.  So a big thank-you to the Woolsons for that!

[The argument here is underdeveloped.  What I also want to say somewhere is that, given how few examples of these early stoves survive -- none in most cases -- the patent drawings and descriptions give us some of our best evidence of how they looked, how they were made, and how they were supposed to work, as well as who they were intended for and what we can infer about local consumers' tastes and requirements from them.  But this methodological stuff should probably be moved to an appropriate position in one of the earlier posts -- the first state study?]

* * *

As the first table and the chart above indicated, though northern New Englanders began to take out stove patents again in the 1850s, their share of the booming national total did not recover much.  New Hampshire is the only state where I have looked at the 1850s patents in detail, so can tell that they are qualitatively different from those that were taken out before the 1840s hiatus.  It might be useful, and not very time-consuming, to do the same exercise on Vermont and Maine.  In New Hampshire, at least, stove patentees now had a close relationship with their state's stove industry, which made up most of the region's.  It would be reasonable to expect the same sort of pattern  in Maine.  But it's worth emphasizing how small the three states' stove industry was.  They were on the north-easternmost periphery of the U.S. Industrial Belt, and none of the few firms they supported became regionally, leave alone nationally, significant.

The only surviving detailed study we have of the mature industry was compiled a generation later, in 1874.  Its comprehensiveness and accuracy are probably not perfect, and what it counted was not companies' actual output but their capacity -- something significantly different.  But, even with those caveats, its findings were pretty clear.  The mean capacity of American stove makers by the early 1870s was about 1,200 tons a year; the median was a bit less, about 900.  Hardly any of the stove makers of northern New England were anywhere near this size, and only one -- the Somersworth Machine Co. of Great Falls, NH, eighth largest in the nation -- was bigger.  All but one of the rest were among the smallest stove makers in the country -- those making less than 500 tons a year each; a group with 41 members, 19 percent of the industry total, but with a combined output representing only a sixteenth (6.4%) of national capacity.

Somersworth Machine Co.   NH   Great Falls            3,000

William P. Ford & Co.     NH   Concord                  600

Cole Bugbee & Co.         NH   Lebanon                  450

Hinkley & Rollins         ME   Bangor                   450
B.J. Cole & Co.           NH   Lakeville                425
O.E. Sheridan             VT   Highgate                 280
Harrison Eaton            NH   Amherst                  275
Wood Bishop & Co.         ME   Bangor                   275

Total:                                                5,755

[The Somersworth Machine Co. was described in 1871 as "iron founders and machinists, manufacture cooking, office and parlor stoves, hollow ware, also, all kinds of castings for mills, gas work, cast iron, steam, gas and water pipes, retorts, hydrants, &c. Capital invested $100,000; employ 100 hands; annual pay roll $60,000 and producing good of various kinds to the value of $200,000." This is interesting: by that time most U.S. stove makers had been specialists for decades, with even those that started out as general foundries having decided to focus on stoves alone, or in some cases to produce hollow ware too; Somersworth, in a relatively isolated industrial district, remained a generalist.  The company had been established in 1849, incorporating two small local foundries, by the nephew of the agent for the Great Falls Manufacturing Co., the town's major business and the owner of all of the water power other companies depended on, which had been founded in 1823 and bought in 1844 by Abbott and Amos Lawrence and William Appleton, Boston capitalists with large textile interests in Lowell and Lawrence, Mass.  This kind of close relationship between textile firms and the local machine shops that served them, and that were also sometimes (as at Lowell) major stove manufacturers too, was not uncommon in New England.  In other words, the Somersworth company was qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from all of the other small stove foundries in the region.]

TBA -- updated 27 April 2015.