Henry Stanley (1795-1878) and his Rotary Stove
Henry Stanley was the most important stove inventor and maker to emerge in Vermont. His stoves sold nationwide and influenced many other makers to imitate or attempt to improve on them. This section of my old book manuscript will serve as an introduction to his career. I wrote this post originally several years ago (August 2016), but a later attempt to extend it resulted in such a monumental formatting glitch that I had to take it down. I am bringing it back now because I have recently come across a really nice surviving example of a probably older Stanley Rotary on Facebook's Antique Stove Collectors' page, with numerous pictures and even a movie of the turntable top rotating smoothly and easily about 190 years after it first did, and even without the graphite lubricant advised.
EXTRACT FROM CHAPTER FIVE OF “A NATION OF STOVES” MANUSCRIPT, c. 2012
An even more successful example of a similar strategy [integration of iron smelting, stove making, distribution, marketing, and sales] did not enjoy the protection of distance from the main sources of stove supply, but depended instead on the quality of its innovative products, as well as on the dramatic improvements to internal transportation that took place in the 1820s. These enabled a Vermont machine-builder, Henry Stanley (b. 1795), to reach out and invade the urban markets of the seaboard in head-to-head competition with established manufacturer-wholesalers themselves.
Stanley, originally a maker of wool-carding and cloth-dressing equipment in the small, stagnant town of Poultney (about twenty-five miles south of John Conant in Brandon), turned disaster into opportunity in 1829 when a fire destroyed his machine-building facilities and left him with nothing but the foundry he had recently erected, reputedly the first in the state to use anthracite as its fuel. So he started making stoves, then just “coming into general use,” instead. At first he manufactured from other designers' patterns, and also produced prize-winning “handsome ... very light and smooth” cast-iron cooking utensils which he sold through dealers on New York's Water Street. Stanley relied on the Champlain Canal, completed in 1827 and at its nearest just ten miles west of Poultney at Whitehall, New York, to connect him with this market.1
By 1832 he had invented his own cooking stove, with a literally revolutionary layout. It was quite unlike most others, which had hardly any moving parts. But Stanley was a machinist, and his rotary stove featured a crank-operated turntable top, which enabled the cook to control cooking temperature by moving the pots closer to or further away from the hottest parts of the fire, and, like Conant's step-stove design a decade earlier, minimized heavy lifting (Figure 5.#). It was also craftily designed to permit the easy replacement of the parts subject to the most wear, something important to win the confidence of consumers buying an expensive new item of essential household equipment and living tens or hundreds of miles away from the maker. [See this 1834 advertisement in a Hudson Valley newspaper, for the stove's many claimed advantages.]2
Stanley acquired a blast furnace of his own, the Mount Hope, about eight miles outside Fort Ann, New York, a town on the Champlain Canal south of Whitehall, thereby securing his pig iron supply. He went on to establish sales outlets in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Troy, run by other family members, and to become one of the most distinctive and also successful stove makers in the emerging national market of the 1830s.
A part of Stanley's competitive advantage depended on the control he enjoyed over all stages of manufacturing. His stoves' Albany distributor claimed in 1838 that “the quality of the castings and general workmanship of them, is unequalled by any other in this country.” The best that other firms not doing their own casting could promise at the time was that they gave careful directions to the furnace or foundry making their stoves, and inspected the work in progress. Stanley's production system was a variation on the usual decentralized pattern, but with one crucial difference: furnace, foundry, and factory were all owned and managed by the same few men, and the transactions among them were all internal to the firm and coordinated by it. Castings were packed flat in boxes and barrels at the foundry, teamed to Whitehall, floated to the Hudson on their own dedicated canal boat, the “Rotary,” and shipped downriver from Troy for his brothers to assemble, finish, and sell at their waterfront wholesale and retail depots.3
Sales of Stanley's stoves spread far beyond the East Coast territories that he supplied from his own foundry, because he also licensed his design (at $5 per stove) to be made and sold in markets that he could not easily reach. For example, 3,000 were produced in Cincinnati alone between 1832 and 1839, where its local maker claimed that “in the parts of the country where it had been introduced, it had superseded all others.” [In 1837, his dealer in Cleveland claimed that "Those who have used them say that they are superior to any others."] By the early 1840s the Stanleys were even making direct sales in the Midwest themselves: stove merchants in south-east Michigan were their second-largest group of customers, after New York's, and they were also doing a significant trade in Wisconsin and Illinois.4
But they lost control of their overextended business at the pit of the post-Panic depression in 1842. Henry Stanley was “enterprising” and “intensely active,” though let down by a “want of caution” -- or simply of luck. His firm came spectacularly unstuck, with liabilities of $82,274 ($63.8 million at 2019 values, using the GDP per capita method of comparison), the largest business failure in the New York stove trade. This was not the end of his career as a stove inventor, but from now on he depended on other companies to licence his patents and make his products. Ironically, by the time that Stanley's thirteen-year experiment in vertical integration of all stages of manufacture and distribution of stoves bit the dust, the pattern of business organization that he had helped pioneer was becoming the industry's new norm.5
1 Joseph Joslin, Barnes Frisbie, and Frederick Ruggles, A History of the Town of Poultney, Vermont: From Its Settlement to the Year 1875 (Poultney: Journal Printing Office, 1875), pp. 53 [population], 95-97 [quote], 298; The American Advertising Directory , p. 117, for his hollow ware.
2 Stanley's key patents were “Cooking Stove,” 7333X (1832), “Revolving Cooking Stove,” 9282X (1835) [lost in the 1836 Fire at the Patent Office], and [same title], 91 (1836), probably its replacement. The text of 91's is the same as 7333X's, a new copy of which Stanley would have supplied to the Patent Office after the Fire, because he took advantage of the destruction of earlier versions of his patent and a critical court ruling on it to make it more litigation-proof in future. Stanley & Co., Remarks and Directions for using Stanley's Patented Rotary Cooking Stove: For Sale at No. 50 S. Calvert-street Baltimore, by Stanley & Co., and at No. 6 Chesnut-street, Philadelphia, by John P.E. Stanley & Co. (Baltimore: Sands & Neilson, 1834), for a full description in probably the oldest surviving stove instruction-manual, essential because Stanley's stove was so different in operation from any other. [Other editions: 1833 Troy; 1834 Cincinnati; 1835 New York]
3 William W. Mather, Geology of New-York (Albany, NY: Carroll & Cook, 1843), Part 1, pp. 575-6; D. Kittle advertisement, Albany Evening Journal 1 Feb. 1838, p. 1 [quote], cf. J. & A. Fellows ad., same page; Stanley & Co.'s operations reconstructed from their 1843 Bankruptcy, Box 155, File 2099. The file is unusually rich, including small debts for unpaid wages to laborers, farmers, teamsters, and others in the villages along the Vermont-New York border area where they were based, as well as to their trade creditors in Troy, New York, and Baltimore. It also contains an inventory of the Water Street depot in New York, which contained both a steam-powered stove-finishing and assembly shop and the varied assortment of completed stoves, spare parts, and kitchen accessories vital for its wholesale and retail business. The assessed value of the stock and equipment was almost $8,000.
4 Stanley v. Whipple (1839), reported in James B. Robb, compiler, A Collection of Patent Cases Decided in the Circuit and Supreme Courts of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1854), Vol. 2, pp. 1-10, provides details of his licensing arrangements and Cincinnati sales [quotation at p. 5]; Stanley Bankruptcy, Schedule A, 25 Feb. 1843, for the geographical distribution of the firm's $32,000 worth of outstanding trade accounts.
5 Stanley Bankruptcy, Schedule A, 25 Feb. 1843, for liabilities; Joslin et al., History of the Town of Poultney, p. 353 [quote]. Stanley had moved to Albany by the time of his 1845 heating-stove patent 3876 (“Stanley's Coal Burner”), and assigned it to Charles Eddy, a Troy stove maker, whose firm valued it enough to reissue it in 1860 in order to maintain their exclusive rights (Reissues 944, 958, and 1078). Stanley himself went into a new business in Troy that also depended on high-quality charcoal-iron castings, the manufacture of railroad car wheels – Freedley, Leading Pursuits, p. 323.
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See also, elsewhere in this blog:
- "The Pioneer Cooking Stove, Indiana, Late 1830s" -- a humorous recollection of a frontier family's acquisition of a rotary stove;
- "Vermont Stove Inventors, Inventions, and Their Makers, 1817-1850," from which most of this text was taken, and which provides much of the context; and
- "Who Invented the Step (or Jews Harp, Premium, or Horseblock) Stove?" -- also relevant because Stanley's stove was essentially a modified step stove.]
- "Henry Stanley's Rotary Stove and US Patent Law";
- "Rotary Stoves -- Henry Stanley's and Others'";
- "A Stovemaker Writes to his Customer: John A. Conant, the Brandon Iron Co., & Henry W. Miller, 1835-1838." -- much discussion about Conant's rotary stoves, patent issues with Stanley, etc.