* * *
P.P. Stewart and the Ideal Cooking Stove
Figure 6.# P.P. Stewart, 1798-1868 (Fuller, Warren & Co., P.P. Stewart's New Cooking Stoves, Air-Tight, Anthracite Non-Clinker, Bituminous Non-Clinker, and Wood Stoves: Forty-Five Different Stoves to Select From [Troy, NY: The Company, 1873], frontispiece; Eliza C. Stewart, A Worker, and Workers' Friend: P.P. Stewart, as Mechanic, Teacher, and Missionary; as Inventor, Educationist, Reformer, and Philanthropist. A Life Sketch [New York: Author, 1873], frontispiece.) [Not included here -- at end of text instead.]
The most interesting of the hundreds of stove inventors and designers active through these decades, for the number of areas of antebellum American life that his varied career encompassed, as well as one of the most important for his work in perfecting the wood-fired cookstove, building the best in the market, and influencing all that came after his via the “purchase, theft, suggestion, or lapse” of his patents,1 was Philo Penfield Stewart (Figure 6.#). He was born in Sherman township in the hills of north-west Connecticut in 1798. When he was ten he was sent 170 miles away from his poor and numerous family to live with his grandfather, a farmer and miller in Pittsford, Vermont, and in 1812, after his father's death, was apprenticed to his uncle, a saddle and harness maker in Pawlet, thirty miles south.2 Stewart, who “had a natural mechanical bent, and was famed as a whittler in his childhood,” acquired an education he valued as well as a trade that he never enjoyed, studying for three months every winter at the Pawlet Academy, which he could attend for six hours a day while working another six in his uncle's workshop. As well as a limited formal education, at the Academy he also gained a lifelong friend, John Jay Shipherd, four years his junior, and got religion, not once but twice. The first time was through the influence of a teacher (probably the celebrated revivalist Levi Parsons), the second through an intense conversion experience that affected him for the whole of the remainder of his days, because it persuaded him to abandon the “love of money, which seemed a natural tendency in his character.”3 Instead, he decided to devote himself to the service of God and his fellows, a resolution turned into action soon after his apprenticeship was over by his enlistment, like Parsons, with the American Board for Foreign Missions, whom he undertook to serve for life, in return for “no other compensation than ... board and lodging.”4
Stewart's first journey from Vermont to the recently established Choctaw Mission at Mayhew in the north-east of Mississippi in the winter of 1821-22 was an epic two-month, 2,000-mile horseback ride, during which his outgoings were only $10 because he chose to depend on the Christian charity of people he met rather than to pay out any unnecessary cash.5 His formal rank at Mayhew was originally “mechanic,” though he did far more than this – teaching school and taking services as well as being the community of ten missionaries' tinsmith, shoemaker, saddle- and harness-maker, clock- and watch-mender, stonemason, millwright, slaughterman, and butcher.6 But the Mayhew mission was notorious for its “intermittent fevers and other diseases,” and his health collapsed. He was sent back North to recover in the spring of 1825, something he claimed to have achieved with his own self-help techniques, marking the start of a moderately successful lifetime commitment to the pursuit of good health, and triumph over his chronic afflictions of “dyspepsia, rheumatism, bilious colic, diarrhoea, choleramorbus, and colds, with long-continued coughs,” via diet and exercise alone.7
For the next two years he was back in Vermont, working as an agent for the Board, selling subscriptions to the Missionary Herald, and finally recruiting more volunteers whom he conveyed back to Mayhew in the fall of 1827, this time in relative comfort by wagon, and taking longer (eleven weeks) but only costing $2 more per head. Stewart's other lifetime commitment, to economy, simplicity, and the avoidance of waste, was already clear in everything he did. During his second spell at Mayhew he enjoyed a higher rank – as “Teacher and Manager of Secular Concerns” -- and married one of his young volunteers, Eliza Capen (b. 1811), but then her health broke down too, and in the summer of 1830 they fled North to save her life. (The move worked: she played an active part in all of his ventures thereafter, and survived him by twenty-six years.) Shortly afterward the mission itself was extinguished by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, when the Choctaws were intimidated into surrendering their ten and a half million acres of land in exchange for new territory west of the river, to which they were soon expelled along the Trail of Tears.8
So Philo Stewart found himself aged 32, once again back in Vermont, and at a loose end. His determination to serve God and evangelize the heathen West remained undimmed, but he had to find another way of doing it. He wrote to his old friend Shipherd – working as a pastor in Elyria on the Western Reserve in Ohio and, like him, a committed abolitionist, temperance advocate, and perfectionist reformer – asking for assistance. Shipherd responded by taking him in to train for the ministry in 1831.9 Over the winter of 1831-1832 they and their wives lived and prayed together and conceived a grand plan: Stewart wanted to found a coeducational school operating on the manual labor principle, i.e. it should be open to poor students who would work to make the institution as self-sufficient as possible rather than having to pay fees. Shipherd's enthusiasm was for a cooperative utopia – a godly community improving itself away from the world, living frugally by its own labor. The two ideas were complementary: as Stewart put it later, “He needed my school to grace his colony, and I needed his colony to sustain my school. He left out his proposed 'common property' feature from his plan, and I added the collegiate feature to my school, and thus we combined and harmonized both plans.” Oberlin Institute (now College) was born.10
The winter the Shipherds and the Stewarts spent together had another effect more important for this book's story though not, perhaps, in the great scheme of things. Stewart had, after all, been brought up in the heart of the Vermont iron-making district. And he was certainly familiar with stoves – the Mayhew mission's cooking stove, vital for large-scale catering, was one of its most valuable possessions, and Troy had been his river-port in travels to and from home. But Mrs. Shipherd did not have one, nor did most of her neighbors, and none could then be bought locally at a price the impoverished idealists could afford. So P.P. Stewart set about making one, with some initial reluctance -- “I regarded it as a very undesirable circumstance that I was obliged to occupy my time in procuring a stove, and if I had had the funds at command I should have purchased one at once.” His first effort was just a simple sheet-iron, wood-fired heater for the Shipherd parlor. But then he added an oven, and found a place for it in his strategy for financing Oberlin. His idea was that he would use his inventive mind to devise machines he could patent, assigning the rights to the Institute. At first he concentrated on a wood planing machine, but as there was evidently an unsatisfied local demand among settlers for cheap, efficient cooking stoves, he decided to focus on them instead.11
Through the summer of 1833 Stewart labored at his stove, renting a workshop, getting prototypes cast, learning the “slow and difficult” skills of stove pattern making by trial and error -- “iron patterns must be obtained before much can be done, or those which are made of wood must be ironed in such a manner that they will not warp and spring, when put into warm damp sand.” But success came quite quickly, and a favorable response from local consumers, and with it optimism for large sales and considerable profit. In 1834 Stewart secured a patent for his Oberlin Cooking Stove, and deeded it to the college for five years “in consideration of the love I bear towards my redeemer and Saviour (sic) Jesus Christ and for the promotion of the Gospel and particularly the Establishment of the Oberlin Institute.”12
The Oberlin Stove was only the third to be patented in the state of Ohio (the first – more elaborate than Stewart's – is illustrated in Figure 2.6). Neither examples nor illustrations of it survive, but his detailed description does, which makes it clear that it was just a modification of the kind of step-stove that John Conant had been making and selling in Stewart's home state for almost a dozen years, and that was already much imitated (see e.g. Figure 2.13). It had five boiler holes, an oven controlled by a single damper, and a feature enabling the broiling of meat on the front hearth, as well as several other distinctive ideas, notably a unique design for the fire box (which Stewart, new to the business, called a “fire-chest”) intended to promote efficient combustion and easy fire-management. Arrangements were made to have it distributed by a local agent to customers up to a hundred miles away, and then manufactured on a larger scale by two Ohio furnacemen – in Cleveland, thirty-five miles north-east, and a hundred miles south, in Newark – who agreed to pay $2 per stove for the rights. But the results were disappointing – just 123 stoves sold by the Newark furnace in 1835 – perhaps because there was already too much competition from other, better or cheaper imported stoves in the Ohio market.13
Stove invention was not Stewart's only or even main preoccupation at Oberlin. He was the Steward, i.e. local business manager, and usually left in charge of all practical affairs, particularly constructing college and community buildings, while Shipherd was off fundraising among sympathetic evangelicals in the East. He and his wife, who gave their labor for nothing more than their food and lodging just as they had in their previous missionary enterprise, also ran the college's boarding house. Stewart found the work “more wearing, both to body and mind, than the labors I performed among the Indians.” Part of the reason was because of students' growing resistance to Philo and Eliza's extreme commitment to plain living, or what he called “Christian economy,” which they believed to be the route to health as well as purity of heart. Abstinence for the Stewarts extended beyond alcohol and tobacco to include tea, coffee, meat, and finally almost anything that made eating a pleasure. Eventually he even abandoned salt, and found his everyday cornmeal puddings and gruels no less palatable. But the result was a diet recalled by former students as “Swill, starch, slosh, dishwater, &c.” and in 1835 the Stewarts were relieved of their duties, with the argument that he could now devote full time to his stoves.14
There was a far more serious argument than the one about diet that also separated him from his old friend Shipherd and many of the other leading figures in the community at the same time: the admission of African American students to Oberlin. Stewart was a lifelong abolitionist, and in Troy in the 1850s the Stewarts' house would be a station on the Underground Railroad, but he was even more dedicated to the cause of (white) women's education. He feared that his colleagues' overriding commitment to black equality would threaten the survival of Oberlin's coeducational experiment. It is hard to decide, from the surviving evidence, whether Stewart was personally alarmed by the threat of miscegenation if black men were permitted to live and study alongside young white women (the way that the issue was understood at the time), or if instead his main concern was for the effect on local white opinion, which was increasingly hostile to Oberlin as an abolitionist hotbed anyway. There was a good precedent for the damaging impact of relationships across the color line on community toleration for reformers' programs – the marriages between two Cherokee Indians and two young Connecticut women in the mid-1820s, which helped cause the closure in 1827 of the American Board's Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, where they had met. It is inconceivable that Stewart could not have been aware of this local and national cause célèbre affecting his own organization during the years he was back in New England working on its behalf.15
The Oberlin controversy was a reflection of the broader fissure in antislavery sentiment at the time. Stewart was still on the moderate or “colonisationist” side together with most of the original Oberlin settlers, but most of his Institute colleagues had opted for the “immediatism” of their new recruits from Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati and the Eastern financial backers, particularly the very evangelical Tappan brothers, New York merchants, on whom the college became increasingly dependent as its other sources of income collapsed in the mid-1830s. So Stewart found himself on the losing side of the argument, and in 1836, two years before the end of his and his wife's agreed term of service, they resigned their positions and left.16
Initially he travelled through New England as a fundraiser and recruiter for Oberlin, but when the Stewarts went home to Vermont for the winter its bitterness persuaded them to move down to New York City, where Stewart taught school for African Americans and also hoped to find financial backers for his planing machine. However, his timing was immaculately bad: he arrived on the brink of the Panic of 1837, and both of the firms that pledged to build his planer went bust before they could do it – thereby probably saving him a costly lawsuit at the hands of the owners of the 1828 Woodworth patent, one of the most valuable and frequently litigated in antebellum America.17
So Stewart had to find another source of income. The “execrable” bread in his vegetarian lodging house, burnt on one side and raw on the other, inspired him to return to stove invention, and a local manufacturer gave him workshop space for his experiments. The Stewarts were extremely poor, and only stayed in the city because they could not afford to leave it. But poverty and the high cost of firewood turned into the stimulus for Stewart's great breakthrough. He developed the idea behind his Oberlin Stove firebox in order to make a stove that would bake bread with just three sticks of wood, and be hot enough to do the ironing with just one. (In case this seems improbable, it helps to understand that a “stick” of stove wood was about the size and thickness of a man's forearm, and would probably strike us nowadays as quite a respectable little log). It had an oven that baked evenly, and insulated tin covers that could be placed over the top and sides to further economize on fuel and also prevent the overheating of a small apartment in summer. Other advantages included easy controllability and adaptability to burning wood, peat, or even anthracite.
By 1838 he had scraped together enough money from his wife's paid work and other family members' contributions to be able to afford to take out a patent for his “Summer and Winter Cooking Stove.” However, like Jordan Mott in New York a few years earlier, he had difficulty persuading established stove makers, a community to which he was a complete outsider, to adopt his radical new design. Stewart needed this far more than Mott had, because he had no capital at all and little business experience, so he could not exploit his ideas fully without backing. But as his stove was costly to manufacture this did not come quickly, and he moved back to Troy to attempt to raise enough money to do it himself instead. Eliza Stewart recalled “six long years” during which “by rigid economy and diligent personal labor she paid all the expenses of the family.” This suggests that, though he made his first appearance in the city directory as a stove “manufacturer and dealer” in 1840, he must only have been operating on a small scale, probably getting his castings made by local firms and doing his own 'mounting' (assembling) and retail sales, and cannot have made much money until about 1843. The attraction of Troy may have been that, as well as its proximity to the Stewarts' families, it provided a concentration of suppliers (particularly jobbing foundries), skilled workers, and customers for his stoves and hopefully for his ideas – i.e. it offered a startup business like Stewart's, with few resources of its own, the “agglomeration economies” of working within an emerging specialized industrial district. Eventually his efforts began to pay off. Troy's oldest foundry, Nathaniel Starbuck & Co., in business since 1821, entered an agreement with him to make and sell his stoves. 3,000 were sold in 1844, 4,800 in 1845. The Stewarts were in the money at last -- which did not mean that they became wealthy, but that they could give it away. He became one of Oberlin's most generous sponsors – more than $300 in 1845, and about $2,400 in 1846.18
If this were a conventional successful-inventor narrative, Stewart's travails should have been over and a future as a wealthy entrepreneur, developing and exploiting the booming markets of the 1840s and 1850s with what was widely acknowledged to be the best cooking stove available, should have opened before him. But he seems to have been afflicted by a near-fatal combination of a lack of both luck and judgement. His career was littered with misfortune. Starbuck & Co. went broke in 1846, just as sales of his stove were beginning to take off (sales of 1,800 stoves by his Boston distributor alone were reported in that year), and Stewart shared in the losses to the tune of $30,000. He was back to square one, getting his stoves cast by other local foundries and doing all of the mounting and selling himself. He cannot have been very busy. By 1847 he was paying his $400 contribution to Oberlin in stoves, not cash, and in 1848 Mrs. Stewart's 50 cent subscription was the only one recorded. His stove lost its dominant position in the market, his competitors had time to imitate it, and he lacked the resources to sue them or to overtake them with new innovations. In 1850 he found another partner, James Flack, a local stove dealer, with whom he stayed in business until 1854 before they broke up. According to Mrs. Stewart, this and another partner she did not name “affirmed that Mr. Stewart embarrassed the business by his extreme generosity in trade. He, on the other side, was impressed that they did not do business on Christian principles, according to his standard.” The Stewarts had another disappointment at the same time: their other venture, a water-cure establishment in Troy, also failed.19
|The Buffalo Business Directory Vol. 1 (Buffalo: Hunter & Ostrander, 1855), p. 213.|
Finally in the mid-1850s Stewart found a reliable partner, the firm of Fuller & Warren, one of the largest stove founders in Troy. It was only from then on that he could bring out new models incorporating all of the improvements he had been thinking of for more than a decade, and replace his original patent, which expired in 1852. Fuller & Warren witnessed, licensed, and finally bought the patents resulting from his experiments; manufactured his stoves under his personal supervision; and developed a national distribution network of independent agents “in all the principal cities and towns in the Union” (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Mobile, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, and Cincinnati were mentioned by name). They advertised his new stoves heavily in their local markets using artwork and copy supplied by the firm, which also invited interested consumers to ask for an illustrated brochure mailed to them free of charge. The result was sales of about 5,000 a year, i.e. back to his mid-1840s peak, by 1859, rising to about double that annual volume over the next decade, and even bigger sales of the parlor stoves he developed in the 1860s.20
The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1861 (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee & Co., 1861), unpaginated front matter. Note the use of a standard engraving by different advertisers six years and several hundred miles apart, evidence of Fuller & Warren's marketing.
But his problems were still not over. His remaining years were blighted by the Great Troy Fire of 1862, which destroyed some of his real estate investments; by contracts unwisely entered into and only exited at great cost; and by being on the losing end of fraudulent transactions – altogether, these cost him about $48,000; and by expensive, often fruitless lawsuits to defend his intellectual property. A friend recalled that “Unsuspicious, strictly just and truthful himself, it has been perhaps the hardest lesson of his life to learn that all others are not so too. Consequently he has ever been the prey of sharpers.” The result was that he managed eventually to sell about 90,000 cook stoves and 110,000 parlor heaters during his career, make a great deal of money, though mostly for Fuller & Warren rather than himself (he claimed to make a little less than a dollar profit from a stove retailing at about $40, his partners rather more), and still die in debt. He left his widow with nothing except their house in Troy, the “United States Hotel,” where they had always given free hospitality to “returned missionaries and broken-down ministers” and anybody else with a hard-luck story. She was forced to rent it out to another widow to run as a proper boarding house, keeping for herself a small suite of rooms in which she lived in modest comfort for the rest of her long life.21
|The home of the Stewart Stove, c. 1869 -- from William Barton (cartographer), |
Map of the City of Troy, West Troy, and Green Island, NY (1869).
Despite his financial disappointments, Stewart's last dozen years were very creative. With Fuller & Warren's support, he could afford the “many and repeated experiments, at great expense in time and money,” on which his method of invention depended. He never abandoned his original design principles, but he developed them in response to competitors' improvements, changes in customers' expectations, and his and their experience of how his stoves worked. He increased the size of his stove's oven and the evenness of heat distribution within it, key selling points in a stove that was advertised principally as a baker of bread; adapted the firebox to work better with anthracite and bituminous coal as well as wood; and devised a convenient water-heating attachment and a secondary oven or “warming closet” (for raising bread, drying fruit, or just keeping food warm). These were located at the back of the stove, where they did not interfere with the main cooking operations, and were powered by heat that would otherwise have gone to waste up the chimney (see Figure 6.#). They were such good ideas, extending the cook stove's usability and easing common household tasks, that everybody soon imitated them. Later he added complementary products, attractive and efficient parlor stoves for anthracite and bituminous coal, and began to offer a “portable range” variant of his stove which could run a plumbed-in domestic hot-water system.22
|Another Walker ad, this time non-display but faithfully reproducing all of the claims P.P. and Fuller & Warren made on its behalf -- The Christian Examiner 70:1 (Jan. 1861): advertising section, p. 5.|
But Stewart's working methods were self-defeating, if his main object had been making money rather than, as he put it himself, “to make the business itself a blessing to [the] community,” including, though he did not spell this out, his fellow-stovemakers, who could free-ride on his ideas.23 As a collaborator explained, he was “a glorious giver” -- not just of all of the income not needed to meet his and his wife's very frugal but hospitable way of life, which went to Oberlin and other educational, religious, or humanitarian schemes, but of his ideas, to his competitors.
His habit was to brood long over every application of a principle that he had discovered, testing it in multiform ways. ... As he discovered and incorporated one principle after another, ... he talked over all with every one – making a secret of nothing. Thus often his ideas were pirated, and patents issued to others, covering his principle before he had applied for a patent. I often remonstrated with him for this long delay and free communication, but in vain. Therefore successive improvements of his stoves have been constantly appropriated by others.24
Dealers advertising his stoves had to warn prospective buyers to beware of the “Numerous imitations ... now in the market, calculated to deceive by their outward appearance” and sometimes by their names too (they also claimed to be “Summer and Winter” stoves) from at least as early as 1845, when large-scale production had not been long under way. This became a standard refrain: “See that the names P.P. Stewart, and of the manufacturers are on each stove. No other is genuine.”25 In this way P.P. Stewart turned into a brand name during his own lifetime, but this did not protect him against imitation – in fact, it more or less guaranteed it.
The respect American stove makers paid to one another's intellectual property by the 1840s is probably best encapsulated in the testimony given in a patent infringement case between two of Troy's leading firms in 1848. Johnson & Cox, who owned and ran the Clinton Foundry before Fuller & Warren took it over, had bought the right to use an invention (a simple redesign of one key part of the firebox) that made it much easier to burn anthracite in a cooking stove. It was the work of Samuel Pierce, who rivalled (and sometimes imitated) Stewart as one of the most influential stove inventors and designers of the 1840s through 1860s.26
As Johnson & Cox's attorney summarized the matter, the defendants, their neighbors Low & Hicks, had “flooded the market with a stove so nearly resembling the patented stove, both in name, form, size, ornaments, and construction, as to deceive any person of ordinary discrimination.” They had even given it a similar name (the American Hot Air vs. the American Air Tight, doubly deceptive because supplying hot air to the oven was also one of Pierce's stoves' distinguishing features). “[T]he Defendants desiring not only to take away the fruits of Pierce's invention, but of his taste also, actually directed their pattern makers to imitate Pierce's stove in every particular, even to the ornamental carving of the pattern, and the shape and position of the legs on the stove, so that it would be easy to pass off their stove for Pierce's.”27
The case against them was so strong that Low & Hicks threw in the towel and paid Johnson & Cox to drop the suit, with the result that recognition and respect for Pierce's innovation became established in practice if not quite in law. It helped that he had always conducted himself very differently from Stewart – not just not giving his ideas away when he was developing them, but actually misleading inquirers about the direction in which his mind was working. For the next twenty-two years, by assiduous patent management, he and his assignees continued to profit from it, and the foundations of his successful career as a stove inventor and designer were securely laid. In the small world of the Capital District's stove makers – men who visited one another's shops, ate and drank together, shared the same riverboat saloons on their trips to the city, and used the same few pattern makers and jobbing foundries – keeping any new idea secret until it could be patented and put on the market was extremely difficult. But Pierce succeeded well enough, while Stewart did not even try.28
Figure 6.# Stewart stove in full dress and in cross section, 1869. (Beecher and Beecher Stowe, The American Woman's Home, pp. 74, 70.) This is evidently his 1859 Patent 23622 stove (Reissue 2915, 1868), with three flues at the back of the stove and a single “sheet flue” underneath.
The Stewart stove may have been the best in the market, winning prizes by 1848 from the American Institute, the Franklin Institute, and the Boston Charitable Mechanics' Association, and continuing to collect others,29 but it was also an expensive product – costly to manufacture, especially in order to meet his exacting quality standards, which were essential in order to deliver the close fit between the plates on which his claims to fuel economy and controllability for cooking partly depended. It had to be sold to consumers on the basis of its durability, performance, and efficiency rather than because it was cheap, flashy in design and decoration, or claimed to be “new and improved,” though it was in fact continuously upgraded. Its original cost was quite high -- $16 wholesale, $22 to $24 retail in 1846,30 rising by 1863 to $37-$55, depending on size and additional fittings, for the new model introduced in 1855. But Stewart, his manufacturing partners, and their local agents persuaded tens of thousands of consumers that the investment made sense. By 1861, 35,000 were said to be in service, including some of the first installed, for which spare parts were still supplied. According to Stewart, “Individuals frequently acknowledge themselves under very deep obligations to a kind Providence, for bringing into their possession an article of so much value in the domestic department. Good house-keepers seldom use the stove long without becoming very much attached to it.” Stewarts kept their value rather than depreciating rapidly like other stoves, and even at 1863's war-inflated prices consumers could expect to recover the extra first cost of the stove in reduced fuel bills during the first couple of seasons, savings that would continue to flow for years or even decades to come.31
Stewart, Fuller & Warren, and their dealers therefore presented the purchase of a Stewart stove as the start of a long relationship with their consumers that was based on trust and mutual gain. The practical benefits he promised included quality of workmanship, guaranteed by his personal supervision and inspection; after-sales service; and ease of use. As an additional way of persuading consumers to make the initial investment, stoves were sold on a three-month trial basis, with a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee “and no unkind feelings indulged” for the purchaser who remained less than completely satisfied; some local dealers even gave them out to customers without asking for any upfront payment. Stewart pitched his stoves at “GOOD HOUSEKEEPERS” who were, like him, “CAREFUL, JUDICIOUS, AND ECONOMICAL MANAGER[s]” and could appreciate the rational bargain he was offering them through his work to “perfect, simplify, and systematize the COOKING STOVE.”32
In 1869 the Beecher sisters, accepting and repeating these and other arguments that Stewart and Fuller & Warren made on its behalf, gave it the strongest possible endorsement to exactly the market the company was targeting. They included seven pages of detailed advocacy in their classic The American Woman's Home, praising it as “a cooking-stove constructed on true scientific principles, which unites convenience, comfort, and economy in a remarkable manner.” They could confidently promote it to their readers on the basis of their “extensive inquiry and many personal experiments,” so that they knew it “to be convenient, reliable, and economically efficient beyond ordinary experience.” They also had “numerous friends, who, after trying the best ranges, have dismissed them for this stove, and in two or three years cleared the whole expense by the saving of fuel.”33
Stewart himself, alongside detailed advice about how to get the maximum in economy and performance, even included four pages of dietary guidance on the use and benefits of wholemeal flour and other elements in his recipe for health and contentment in his very didactic twenty-two-page users' manual:
A long and happy life is the reward of obedience to nature's laws; and to be independent of want, is not to want what we do not need.
Prodigality and idleness constitute a crime against humanity. But frugality and industry, combined with moral virtue and intelligence, will insure individual happness and national prosperity.
Economy is an institute of nature and enforced by Bible precept: 'Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost.'
... [P]ractice temperance in all things; use natural luxuries with moderation, and let unnatural ones alone;34
Recipes were not unusual in mid-century stove buyer's handbooks, but generally not for Graham flour and bran bread, or potato sponge, the kinds of delicacies that had cost the Stewarts their management of the Oberlin boarding house thirty years earlier; and not many cooking stoves came with a sermon thrown in for free, either.35
Philo Stewart was obviously no ordinary stove designer. He was, in the words of an old friend, essentially “a reformer whose first convert was always himself.” But this moralist and dreamer of visions about perfected bodies and souls living in a purified society, while obviously destined to disappointment (as he grumbled after the failure of his water-cure establishment, and about the lack of public enthusiasm for his exercise regime, Americans were “too gluttonous to diet, and too lazy to jump”), also left a very solid material legacy. There were tens of thousands of Stewart stoves in use at the time of his death, and uncountable others whose designers had incorporated most of his best ideas. Eliphalet Nott paid him a fitting though perhaps excessively generous tribute: “All that is of value in other stoves is taken from the Stewart.” His name lived on, because Fuller & Warren preserved it as one of their leading brands, until at last they folded in the Great Depression. By then, more than two million Stewart stoves had been produced, and remaining examples still grace the kitchens of fortunate American homes.36
[Items highlighted in pale blue still need to have hyperlinks added, if they exist. But most of the key sources are available here.]
1 “The Connecticut Historical Society,” The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries 23:6 (June 1890): 420-22 at p. 422, reporting a lecture on Stewart's life by the Rev. Eugene F. Atwood.
2 The principal biographical source for Stewart is his widow Eliza's memoir of him, A Worker, and Workers' Friend. She appointed the Reverend Atwood, an Oberlin graduate, as her literary executor, and gave him “a fair-sized volume” of manuscripts, but unfortunately they do not seem to have survived, and his only publication drawing on them ["Intimate Life Story of Philo Penfield Stewart," The Connecticut Magazine 10:3 (1906): 423-36] is in fact mostly cribbed from her memoir, adding very little.
3 Atwood, “Intimate Life Story,” p. 426, identifies Parsons, for whom see Daniel O. Morton, compiler, Memoir of Rev. Levi Parsons, Late Missionary to Palestine (Poultney, VT: Smith & Shute, 1824), esp. pp. 180-86 for his work in founding the Vermont Juvenile Missionary Society, probably the source of Stewart's first conversion; James H. Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College, 1833-1883 (Oberlin: E.J. Goodrich, 1883), p. 13 [quote].
4 Jedidiah Morse, A Report to the Secretary of War of the United States, on Indian Affairs, Comprising a Narrative of a Tour Performed in the Summer of 1820 (New Haven: S. Converse, 1822), p. 193, quoting the report of Cyrus Kingsbury, Superintendent of Schools in the Choctaw Mission, to John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War. The fullest history of the Mayhew mission is Clara S. Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818-1918 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
5 2,000 miles is the figure in the Stewart memoir, either an exaggeration or evidence that his path must have been very meandering, as it is hard to make the distance much over 1,300 miles whether following the route through Pennsylvania and Virginia that he took in 1827, or across the Mohawk-Great Lakes corridor and down through Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
6 Joseph Tracy, "History of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions" in Tracy et al., History of American Missions to the Heathen, from Their Commencement to the Present Time (Worcester: Spooner & Howland, 1840), p. 339; "Religious Intelligence -- Missions of the American Board," The Christian Spectator [New Haven] 6 (Feb. 1824): 98-101 at 100.
8 Ibid., p. 339; "Brief View of the American Board for Foreign Missions and Its Operations," The Missionary Herald 26:1 (Jan. 1830): 5-14 at 11; “Obituary Notes,” New York Times 7 Sept. 1894, p. ##.
9 There is no evidence that Stewart ever became a minister of religion, but he was sometimes referred to as “the Reverend” -- see e.g. Mortimer de Motte, “Receipts on behalf of the American Protestant Society,” The American Protestant 3:1 (June 1847): 159-60 at p. 160 [Stewart had given this fanatically anti-Catholic organization a $30 stove, which earned him life membership].
10 Stewart, A Worker and a Worker's Friend, p. 131 [quote]. For Shipherd and the history of Oberlin, see also James H. Fairchild, Oberlin: Its Origin, Progress and Results: An Address, Prepared for the Alumni of Oberlin College, Assembled August 22, 1860 (Oberlin: Shankland & Harmon, 1860), esp. pp. 3-4; Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College, esp. pp. 10-16; Robert S. Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College, 1943), Vol. 1, esp. Chs. 7-11; for manual labor, see Paul Goodman, “The Manual Labor Idea and the Origins of Abolitionism,” Journal of the Early Republic 13:3 (Autumn 1993): 355-88.
11 Morse, Report to the Secretary of War, p. 192; Stewart, A Worker and a Worker's Friend, pp. 44-5, makes clear that the first stove was just a parlor heater, and Atwood, “Intimate Life Story,” p. 429, adds that it was Mrs. Shipherd's idea to add an oven, while Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College, p. 30, assumes that it was a kitchen stove, but reprints at pp. 306-7 a 4 February 1833 letter from Stewart to Shipherd explaining his decision [quote].
12 Stewart to Rev. Fayette Shipherd (John Shipherd's older brother), Troy, NY, 21 May 1833, in Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College, p. 312; Fletcher, History of Oberlin College, Vol. 1, p. 130. Stewart also designed a cheap and simple sheet-iron heating stove for the students' rooms, which was still in use forty years later – Atwood, “Intimate Life Story,” p. 429. The witnesses on Stewart's first patent were a couple of other Oberlin officers – the Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer -- “Cooking Stove,” Patent 8275X (1834).
13 “Cooking Stove,” Patent 8275X (1834), cf. Elisha Town (Montpelier, VT), “Cooking Stove,” Patent 7871X (1833) and Thaddeus Fairbanks (St. Johnsbury, VT), “Cooking Stove,” Patent 8763X (1835), also both step-stoves – i.e. Stewart was working with the stove type probably most familiar in his native Vermont; Fletcher, History of Oberlin College, Vol. 1, pp. 138-9.
14 Stewart to Bro. C., 13 May 1863, in Stewart, A Worker and a Worker's Friend, p. 127 [quote], and p. 72 [giving up salt]; Fletcher, History of Oberlin College, Vol. 1, p. 197 [commitment to health reform], Ch. 22 [health reform and diet], p. 328 [“Swill” quote]; Oberlin College Board of Trustees Minutes, 9-10 Feb. 1835, http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/LaneDebates/OCBoardMinutes1835%20.htm.
15 Fletcher, History of Oberlin College, Vol. 1, Ch. 14; Thurman Wilkins, Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986), esp. pp. 131-53, and Theresa S. Gaul, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriet Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), esp. pp. 4-14, 33-34. Coincidentally, Gold's brothers Stephen and Job were also active stove, boiler, and furnace inventors from the early 1830s through the 1870s.
16 Fairchild, Oberlin: Its Origin, Progress and Results, pp. 17-26; James O. Horton, "Black Education at Oberlin College: A Controversial Commitment," Journal of Negro Education 54:4 (Autumn, 1985): 477-499; Cally L. Waite, Permission to Remain Among Us: Education for Blacks in Oberlin, Ohio, 1880-1914 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2002), pp. 9-16. Waite, p. 15, has Stewart finally on the side of admitting black students, the first of whom enrolled later in 1835, but she may be over-interpreting the fact that no dissent was recorded (by Stewart, the secretary) in the Board of Trustees Minutes.
17 B. Zorina Khan, The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 206.
18 His story of invention crops up in many places, but they all seem to derive from his wife's account in A Worker and a Worker's Friend, pp. 45, 69-76 [quote], which is consistent with his own version told to friends and associates. The original patent, which “was a source of great satisfaction and triumph, after so long and severe a struggle” (p. 74), is for the “Summer and Winter Cooking-Stove,” Patent 915 (1838). Stewart gave his address as Hudson Street on the Lower West Side, and the one of his witnesses who can be identified, William Serrell, was a ship's block maker from the same part of town – Longworth's American Almanac (1837), p. 550 -- who may perhaps have been the man who provided him with workshop space. Troy directory details from Waite and Waite, “Stovemakers of Troy”; sales figures from P.P. Stewart to W. Dawes, 1846, in Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College, Vol. 1, p. 197; donations from Hamilton Hill, “Receipts,” The Oberlin Evangelist 7:9 (23 Apr. 1845): 71 and “Receipts for O.C. Institute,” 7:18 (27 Aug. 1845): 143; "Acknowledgment of Money in Aid of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute," Oberlin Evangelist 8:7 (1 Apr. 1846): 55, “Received,” 8:11 (27 May 1846): 87, and “Contributions,” 8:12 (10 June 1846): 95.
19 Stewart, A Worker, esp. pp. 87-8 [disasters]; “Cooking Stoves. Great Improvement,” Columbia [PA] Spy 16 Oct. 1847, p. 2 [1,800 sales – in advertisement by Thomas G. Happersett of Baltimore, who had the exclusive agency for Stewart stoves in Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Western Pennsylvania]; Atwood, “Intimate Life Story,” p. 424 [$30,000 loss]; Hamilton Hill, "Subscriptions and Donations to the O.C. Institute," Oberlin Evangelist 9:26 (22 Dec. 1847): 207 and “Receipts [for 1848],” 11:2 (17 Jan. 1849): 15; Flack from Waite and Waite, “Stovemakers of Troy,” and The New York Mercantile Union Business Directory 1850-1851 (New York: French, Pratt & Henshaw, 1850), p. 365; Stewart, A Worker, pp. 79 [quote], 82-4 [water cure]. For their water-cure establishment, see also William A. Alcott, “Water-Cure in the Country,” The Water-Cure Journal, and Herald of Reforms 17:5 (May 1854): 110 and “Remarkable Cure of Epilepsy,” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 51:1 (2 Aug. 1854): 39-41 at p. 39. Stewart also invented a system of exercise – basically deep breathing followed by jumping up and down, originally to strengthen his own chronically weak lungs – which was described and praised in Alcott's The Laws of Health, Or, Sequel to "The House I Live In" (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1859), p. 288, as “the most natural, and can be practised by anybody, in any circumstances”; Alcott also recommended his cooking stove, p. 272. Alcott, one of the most influential health reformers of his time, was a close associate of Stewart's – they were respectively president and vice-president of the American Vegetarian Society.
20 A.P., “Our State Institutions – XV. The Troy Stove Foundries,” New York Times 1 Feb. 1872, p. 5; Fuller & Warren's partners appeared as witnesses on Stewart's patents, 1857-59; Samuel Locke advertisement, “Stewart's Stove,” The Daily True Delta [New Orleans] 8 Oct. 1859, p. 3 [sales in late 1850s]; George W. Walker & Co. [Boston] advertisement, The Christian Examiner 70:1 (Jan. 1861): advertising section, p. 7 [national distribution] – Walker also served as a witness on Stewart's late-1850s patents; Parker Brothers advertisement, “35,000 in Use!” The Agitator [Wellsboro, PA] 13 Feb. 1861, p. 4 [free mailing of brochures].
21 Stewart, A Worker and a Worker's Friend, pp. 87-8 [calamities], and T.D.W. (possibly Wiswell, witness on Stewart's “Baker for Cooking Stove,” Patent 18024  and “Cooking Stove,” Patent 22681 ), p. 121 [quote]; P.P. Stewart, 1863. The Peculiarities of the Stewart Cook-Stove: Embracing the Latest Improvements, Briefly Stated, with Directions for Using, by the Inventor and Patentee (Troy: Fuller, Warren & Co., 1863), p. 4 [prices and profits]; Henry B. Nelson, ed., Biographical Record of the Officers and Graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1886 (Troy: W.H. Young, 1887), p. 106 [sales, in biography of Stewart's patron, Joseph W. Fuller]; Atwood, “Intimate Life Story,” pp. 428 [home for retired missionaries], 430 [output and loss figures].
22 “Coal Stove,” Patent 48143 (1865) [quote]. Stewart's major redesign was on sale by 1855 – see e.g. Richard Scobell advertisement, “Stewart's Cook Stove. Warranted to do more work satisfactorily, with half the fuel, than any other stove IN THE WORLD,” The Buffalo Business Directory, Vol. 1 (Buffalo: Hunter & Ostrander, 1855), p. 213 – but it took him four years to secure the patent; see narrative in “Cooking Stove,” Reissue 3027 (17 July 1868), an episode in Patent 22681's complex history of suits and reissues as he and his widow attempted unsuccessfully to defend it. His principal parlor stove patents were “Heating Stove,” Patent 38361 (1863) and “Coal Stove,” Patent 48143 (1865), and he was working on more up until the time of his final illness in 1867-1868. His mature product range is best described in his 1863. The Peculiarities of the Stewart Cook-Stove and Fuller, Warren & Co., Troy, N.Y. [offices in Chicago and Cleveland], P.P. Stewart's Large Oven, Summer and Winter Air-Tight Cooking Stove, For Wood, or Anthracite, or Bituminous Coal. Fuller, Warren & Co., Exclusive Manufacturers (Troy, NY: The Company, Feb. 1867).
26 Pierce, b. 1812, was the youngest son of Samuel Pierce, the tinsmith of Greenfield, Massachusetts, and younger brother of John J. Pierce, proprietor of the town's Franklin Furnace and a stove inventor since at least 1822 (see Chapter 4, p. ##). In 1833 he moved to New York City and opened a stove store on Lower Broadway [Richard Edwards, ed., New York's Great Industries. Exchange and Commercial Review, including also Historical and Descriptive Sketch of the City, Its Leading Merchants and Manufacturers (New York: Historical Publishing Co., 1884), p. 102]. By 1835 he was already describing himself as a patent range manufacturer, a description he shared with none of his competitors [Subscribers' List, Journal of the American Institute 1:2 (Nov. 1835): 40], and in 1838 he did indeed patent a prizewinning brick-set, anthracite-fuelled cooking range [“Mode of Constructing Flues &c. for Ranges,” Patent 613; "List of Premiums Awarded by the Managers of the Ninth Annual Fair of the American Institute, held at Niblo's Gardens, October, 1836," Journal of the American Institute 2:2 (Nov. 1836): 85-95 at p. 87] which other New York firms made for him, and also sold manufacturing rights outside the city [Proceedings of the Second Annual Fair of the Ohio Mechanics' Institute: Held during the Third Week in June, in the City of Cincinnati (Cincinnati: R.P. Brooks, 1839), p. 13]. In 1843 he decided to devote himself to stove invention full time, leaving the New York City business in the care of an older brother who would continue to sell what he invented, and moved to Peekskill, where there were foundries and pattern-makers to work with and “a pleasant place of residence of my family” [Pierce testimony in Report of a Trial, for Violation of the Patent Right of the 'American Air-Tight' Cooking Stove, in the Circuit Court of the U.S. within and for the District of Mass. Elias Johnson and David B. Cox, Plffs. Peter Low and George W. Hicks, Defts. (Boston: Damrell & Moore, 1848), pp. 20, 24 (quote)]. In 1845 he moved to Troy, just eighty miles west of Greenfield, where he still had a farm, and stayed there for the next couple of decades, producing twenty-four original patents for heating and cooking stoves and ranges in a thirty-three year inventing career.
27 William Whiting, Counsel for the Plaintiffs, in Report of a Trial, p. 12 [quote]. The testimony given in this trial provides numerous insights into the culture of the emerging community of stove makers and designers who were making the New York Capital District the industry's center of innovation and production.
28 Pierce testimony in ibid., pp. 23-27; U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Patents and the Patent Office, "Report [To accompany bill H.R. No. 783]," 10 June 1868, 40th Congress, 2d. Session, Rep. Comm. No. 118, in U.S. Congress, Reports of Committees of the Senate of the United States for the Second Session Fortieth Congress, 1867-'68 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1868), p. 101, traces the history of Pierce's key “Cooking Stove” Patent 4299 (1845), reissued twice in 1847 (Reissues 91 and 99) in preparation for the suit, extended for seven years in 1859, and reissued again (Reissue 1240) in 1861. In the original patent, the feature that turned out to be so valuable – something that the committee, in rejecting his appeal, accurately described as “simple and inexpensive, and requiring little or no experiment for its original completion” -- was not emphasized at all; the neglect was not rectified until the 1861 Reissue, which basically rewrote the history of what it was that Pierce said that he thought he had invented. By 1868 it was still “used by stove manufacturers generally throughout the country,” and had brought both Pierce and his assignees large profits, which Congress concluded had provided quite enough reward for his original good idea.
29 Long & Jackson [Pottsville, PA] advertisement in Eli Bowen, ed., The Coal Regions of Pennsylvania (Pottsville: E.N. Carvallho & Co., 1848), advertising section p. 3, including a woodcut of the famous stove, its top covered with kettles and boilers; "Report on Cooking Stoves at Saratoga Fair," Transactions of the New-York State Agricultural Society 13 (1853): 104-7 at p. 105. Revealingly, Stewart' original-model wood stove only collected a second prize in 1853 because another manufacturer's was considered almost as good as Stewart's and almost a third cheaper, but his newer coal-fired version was still worth a first prize despite its high cost.
31 Stewart, 1863. The Peculiarities, pp. 4-5 [costs and benefits]; Walker advertisement, 1861, p. 7 [numbers]; Stewart to Dawes, 1846, in Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College, Vol. 1, p. 197 [quote]; John D. Ely advertisement, “Stewart's Widely Known and Celebrated Cooking Stove,” The Roman Citizen [Rome, NY] 1866-1867 ##0303 [second-hand value].
32 Stewart, 1863. The Peculiarities, inside front cover and p. 3 [quotes]; Locke & Co. advertisement, “Stewart's Cooking Stoves,” Louisiana Courier 8 Oct. 1858, p. 7 [free trial]. The particular appeal of the Stewart stove in the southern market was said to be its unique insulating jacket: “the most delicate female can visit the kitchen when the Stewart stove is fully employed, and the fire is at the highest, without the smallest unpleasantness from the change of temperature, so little is the heat from it diffused externally,” whereas “with any of the stoves now in use, other than Stewart's, it is scarcely possible for any one, in warm weather more particularly, to breathe with comfort.” This was “its greatest wonder”-- Locke & Co. advertisement, “Stewart's Stove,” Daily True Delta 8 Oct. 1859, p. 3. As another enthusiastic Southern promoter, Dr. N.B. Cloud of Montgomery, Alabama, wrote, “To any family of ordinary size in this country, one of these stoves in operation is worth $500!” -- "Editor's Table. Our New Advertisements," The American Cotton Planter and the Soil of the South 4:12 (Dec. 1860): 569. The ironic appeal of this quintessentially abolitionist stove to slaveholders does not seem to have troubled Fuller & Warren.
33 Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science; Being a Guide to the Formation and Maintenance of Economical, Healthful, Beautiful, and Christian Homes (New York: J.B. Ford & Co., 1869), pp. 69-76, quotations pp. 69, 76, 74. They also promised [p. 73] that a “further account of this stove, and the mode of purchasing and using it,” would be found at the back of the volume, but none of the copies I have seen includes it in the advertisements printed there, which are all for other Beecher family publications. This section of their book reads like an advertorial written by Fuller & Warren, and really stands out from the rest of the text, but Catharine Beecher's biographer has nothing to say about any commercial relationship that may have existed [Kathryn K. Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973)]. Fuller & Warren had been advertising in evangelical and reform periodicals since the late 1850s to reach the same high-minded woman consumers as the Beechers were writing for, and to whom Stewart's pitch was most likely to appeal.
34 Stewart, 1863. The Peculiarities, p. 22 [quotes].
35 After Stewart's death, Fuller & Warren continued to include baking recipes, but Graham flour and bran quickly dropped out, while the more normal American ingredients, sugar and fat, came in -- Fuller, Warren & Co., P.P. Stewart's New Cooking Stoves (1873). The emphasis on fuel economy also declined. Note how Stewart's name had already become a brand – new stoves in whose design he could have played no part, as he had been dead for five years, were still in some sense his. The company dealt with the transition to a world without Stewart's personal inspiration, blessing, and guarantee for their products by hiring his last assistant and chosen successor, William J. Keep, to fill the same roles of superintendent and designer, and advertising the fact, p. 6. Keep, born in Oberlin in 1842, was the son of the abolitionist firebrand the Reverend John Keep, Stewart's old colleague and leader of his immediatist opponents in 1835. He had also studied at Union College under Eliphalet Nott, graduating as an engineer in 1865 – so he had been the beneficiary of a double laying-on-of-hands by the Grand Old Men of the stove business. See Robert B. Ross, George B. Catlin, and Clarence W. Burton, Landmarks of Detroit: a History of the City (Detroit: Evening News Association, 1898), pp. 743-4, for a biography.
36 Stewart, A Worker and a Worker's Friend, pp. 10, 84, 78 [quotes]. Barrows & Peck, A Directory of P.P. Stewart Stoves Ranges & Furnaces sold by Barrows & Peck, 64 Main St., Montpelier, VT -- Manufactured by Fuller & Warren Company Troy, NY, Boston, Chicago, Buffalo (n.d. but probably mid-1920s; copy in RCHS), included a picture of the original Stewart stove as well as the information that they had been sold in town since 1858 and, at the bottom of every page, the two-million-plus sales figures. I have dined beside a Stewart stove in a house near Troy within the last seven years.
|This is a late-model Stewart Stove, with an oven-door thermometer and a hob that could run on gas or from the heat of the solid-fuel fire.|