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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Philadelphia Stove Trade at Mid-Century: Introduction {in progress}

This is a logical follow-up to the individual posts I have written about Philadelphia stove-makers and traders of the early and mid-19th century -- "Looking for the Fougerays: The Growth of the Philadelphia Stove Trade, 1810-1830" (February 2012), "Looking for Pleis, Foering, and Thudium, Philadelphia Stovemakers" (July 2017), and most recently "Warnick & Leibrandt, Philadelphia Stovemakers" (December 2017).  Doing the last one, in particular, has reminded me how much better the Philadelphia stove trade is documented and illustrated than that of any other major center, and persuaded me to try to produce an overview of it, together with portraits of representative individual firms.  Originally I thought these would fit into one post, but it became far too long, so I am going to split if up.

* * * 

Philadelphia was the focus of the American stove trade from its emergence through the late 1830s, i.e. until the sources of castings supply began to shift, very rapidly, from the charcoal-fuelled iron furnaces of south-western New Jersey and south-eastern Pennsylvania to the mostly anthracite-fuelled foundries of towns and cities across the emerging industrial belt.  For at least quarter of a century from the War of 1812 until the Panic of 1837, Philadelphia and its iron merchants were the main sources of capital, entrepreneurial initiative, supplies, and organization for the rural furnaces.  In the beginning the city was also the largest concentrated market, and even after the territory for stove sales spread north and east along the Eastern Seaboard, to New York, up the Hudson Valley to Albany and Troy, and as far as Boston and the other towns and cities of southern New England, it remained important.  This large, mature urban market and its hinterland supported the emergence of a community of smaller merchants and artisans in Philadelphia itself -- designers and inventors, pattern makers, and "manufacturers" who ordered stove plates from the furnaces, assembled them in their workshops, and sold them to local consumers as well as to the networks of other artisans (tinsmiths, blacksmiths) and merchants (hardware jobbers, small-town retailers) who extended Philadelphia's market far and wide.  [For all of this, see Chapters Two and Three of my abandoned manuscript.] 

This first period in the history of the stove trade, locally and nationally, is difficult to illustrate.  There are few advertisements, whether plain text or display, in the annual city directories or anywhere else equally accessible.  Things only began to change at the peak of the stove boom in the late 1830s; and when recovery from the 1837 Panic started, the clear signs of a new world began to appear.

McElroy's Philadelphia Directory 1837, unpaginated advertising section.  Stackhouse is the best-documented member of the local stove trade at this time, because a number of his letters and account books have ended up among a deposit of family papers in the Winterthur Museum.  I will probably dedicate a post to him, or at least to them.  

McElroy's Philadelphia Directory 1839, unpaginated advertising section. The interesting thing about this advertisement is the way it illustrates the rapid integration of an East Coast, if not yet quite national, stove market: Olmsted was a New Haven, Connecticut inventor, and a Yale academic, not a manufacturer.  He traded in intellectual property, not stoves.  His inventions were produced and sold, nationwide and even internationally, because manufacturers bought the right to make stoves under his patent and sell them under his as well as their own name.  Lloyd was a member of a long-established family hardware business in Philadelphia (his father had supplied the Lewis & Clark expedition with its tomahawks).  

The 1839 and 1840 Directories included several more [1839] advertisements  [1840] -- in each case, scroll further to see more -- illustrating the sudden increase in the range and comparative sophistication of the goods being marketed in the city by the turn of the decade, and in the number and variety  of them investing their efforts in selling.  Two more of them were from Samuel Lloyd, who evidently specialized in bringing out-of-town patent appliances into the local market; but he was not alone in doing this.  The first was for Patent 211 (1837); the second for Patent 1456 (1839). 

Thereafter, we really begin to strike gold, notably advertisements by the city's emerging stove founders that I used in my "Warnick & Leibrandt" post:


This was also when William H. Rease began to produce engravings of Philadelphia businesses -- mostly mercantile, some of them manufacturing too -- and to provide us with wonderfully detailed depictions of different aspects of the stove trade at the time when it was both continuing to grow and being transformed by the movement of stove-plate casting into the city itself.  

Factories and Foundries:

Potts & Yocom and Warnick & Leibrandt were quickly joined by other makers.  William P. Cresson, for example, a hardware merchant, opened his own stove foundry in 1845-1846; and Samuel J. Creswell, an established brass founder, added iron stove making to his advertised lines of business.  The new foundries built after the mid-1840s, starting with Cresson's, were much bigger and more impressive than those, Yocom's and Warnick's, that preceded them, and Rease was commissioned to produce grand lithographs depicting them.

The creation of large, custom-built, and integrated stove foundry businesses was the comparatively dramatic feature of the growth and transformation of the Philadelphia trade in the middle of the century [for the national developments of which this was a part, see Chapter Five of my old book manuscript], but it should not blind us to the fact that, for most smaller-scale businessmen, life and work went on much as they had before, except that now they bought their stove castings from local suppliers rather than out-of-town charcoal iron furnaces.  Edwin T. Freedley's picture of the city's post-Civil War stove emphasizes this continuity: there were by then, he said,
Five large Foundries ... devoted exclusively to the manufacture of stoves; while two others make stoves, together with miscellaneous castings. The capital invested in the manufacture is nearly $1,000,000, and the product about fifteen thousand tons annually. The designs, in many instances, are remarkable for their elegance, and the establishments are not surpassed in facilities or in extent by any others. The cheapness of the raw material, and mildness of the winters, enabling the manufacturers to continue operations without cessation throughout the year, are marked advantages, and the fineness of the castings induces professed manufacturers in other places to obtain their supplies from this city. The varieties made here embrace almost every description, from the old Franklin Stove, and the Ten-plate Wood Stove, down to the most modern styles and patterns, including Gas Cooking Stoves. In originating patterns and beautiful styles, the Philadelphia manufacturers and Stove pattern-makers have been remarkably successful; and Stoves from this city have been shipped to Oregon, California, Australia, and Europe; while in our own markets no others can compete with them. [Freedley, Philadelphia and Its Manufactures, 1867, p. 457.]

But there were also still "probably fifty stove makers who get their castings from founders, and finish them in their own shops," as before [p. 458]. Growth and change excite the historian's or even the antiquarian's interest more than continuity, and I suppose this preference is justified, but it's worth remembering that firms like those represented in the first section of this post continued to provide the major enterprises with local business customers and retail outlets.

By 1874, the most thorough and detailed survey of the entire American [factory-based] stove industry, Philadelphia had become the second-largest production center in the country, after Troy, NY, with 8.3 percent of national capacity (c. 210,000 stoves per annum).  Even if we roll Troy and Albany together (18.2 percent of national capacity), Philadelphia still ranks a respectable second.  Of its eleven stove manufacturers active by then, six figure below -- Leibrandt & McDowell was the second-largest, with an annual production capacity of 2,750 tons; the Liberty Stove Works was third, with 2,400 tons; Cox, Whiteman & Cox, which had moved into Warnick's old Germantown Avenue foundry when he vacated it in 1852, was fourth, with 2,000 tons; and Cresson's old foundry, by then owned and operated by the successor partnership of Stuart, Peterson & Co., was joint sixth, with 1,900 tons.  The largest of all by then was Isaac A. Sheppard & Co., with a 5,000 ton annual capacity.  Sheppard's success was all the more striking because his was the last stove foundry to be established (in 1861), and he and his partners were working men, skilled molders (Sheppard himself trained at Warnick's Germantown Avenue foundry) who had been in on the industry's ground floor in the 1840s, had led its labor struggles in the early 1850s, and helped weld the earliest local unions (Troy stove molders created the second, after Philadelphia) into the Iron Molders Union, of which Sheppard was the first Treasurer, in 1859.  The industry's pioneers were thus remarkably long-lived -- all except Stuart, Peterson & Co. were still in business in 1892, and four of the whole 1874 cohort were still there at the time of the last national survey, in 1922.


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