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Saturday, October 26, 2013

(Some of) The First Stove Advertisements in America

Given the very small amount of archival material that survives about the 19th-century American stove industry, particularly for its early period, anybody wanting to know something about the designers, makers, merchants, and (to some extent) users of stoves needs to scratch around in printed primary sources to see what they can find. One of the most useful types of contemporary records of the development of the stove and its industry is provided by the advertising material used to inform consumers about the availability and claimed advantages of new products. This material becomes increasingly plentiful after the 1830s (see, but there is some even for the earliest period in the acceleration of innovation and growth in demand for stoves -- the few years around the war of 1812, and before the coming of anthracite in the late 1820s began to transform the product and its market. (Note: to stop this posting becoming too long, I will let the illustrations more or less speak for themselves. If anybody ever does read this blog, and finds any of these items interesting, they can look at most of the original publications for themselves, thanks to Google and other public benefactors.)

Oliver Evans's "Philosophical and Ventilating Stove," from his The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide: In Five Parts (Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1821), 4th ed., pp. 367-8 [description], 393 [Plate X].  The first edition was in 1795 (where this text appears in the Appendix, pp. 6-7), which makes Evans America's second great stove inventor, after Benjamin Franklin; or maybe the third, after David Rittenhouse?  That edition (online at ECCO) does not include the following plate, and I don't know whether it dates from the second or third editions, neither of which seems to have been scanned and posted yet.  But the plate makes clear, as does the text, that what Evans had devised was a cast-iron kitchen stove (with an oven), which doubled as an air heater (the flue pipe was surrounded with a sheet-iron jacket, making the whole thing into a long heat exchanger) to warm the upper floors of a house, delivering labor-saving, fuel economy, and increased comfort.  Evans claimed to have used this device himself, but there is no evidence that he was imitated by others or that his idea was commercialized at the time.

Daniel Pettibone, "inventor" of the Warm-Air Furnace

Knowing who to list second is difficult -- it depends on what we define as an advertisement.  But probably the man who deserves second place to Evans is another though much less well-known "mechanic" of the late Colonial and Early National periods, Daniel Pettibone.  Pettibone has been quite thoroughly forgotten, except perhaps by historians of architecture and weapons manufacture, and collectors of American militaria. He deserves his place here not simply for his two heating patents ("Fire Place or Heating Stove," 947X, 1808 and "Rarefied Air Stove," 1731X, 1812, both of which were restored after the Patent Office Fire) but also for two long promotional pamphlets that he published about them in 1810 and 1812 (Description of the Improvements of the Rarifying Air-Stove, for Warming and Ventilating Hospitals, Churches, Colleges, Dwellinghouses, Hot orGreenhouses, Manufactories, Banks, Barracks, Ships, &c.... [Philadelphia, 1810] and, with William Thornton, Pettibone's Economy of Fuel or, Description of his Improvements of the Rarefying Air-Stoves, Grates, Tubes, Pipes, Cylinders, or Open Stoves, or Common Fire Places, Made of Iron, Stone, Brick, Potter's Clay ... [Philadelphia: A. Dickinson, for author, 1812]).  These pamphlets are readily available in research libraries -- they are in the Early American Imprints collection -- but not freely online. This doesn't matter too much, because essentially they simply replicate or complement the text of the patents, which are; and, thanks to recent improvements in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website, the handwritten text of early surviving patents like Pettibone's is now as accessible -- 1808, 1810 -- as the drawings have been for some time via Google.  The patents are actually better than the pamphlets, in this respect: they include masses of drawings, which were supposed to be in the 1812 publication (they are even referenced there), but never made it.

Pettibone's achievement is hard to sum up -- it wasn't so much a single device as an entire philosophy of space-heating and fuel economy, which he translated into a plethora of applications, many of which probably never made it off the page.  But at the center of his work was the "invention" (or reinvention: Oliver Evans had got there more than a decade earlier, and in England William Strutt of Derby had installed his first "cockle stoves," made of brick with a cast-iron heat exchanger, in 1792-93) of the basement furnace, the first practical form of central heating that Americans had ever experienced.  Pettibone's furnace started out as little more than an iron drum heat-exchanger on top of a common six-plate stove, with ducts to convey its warmed air to the rooms above, but within four years his apparatus had become much more elaborate, and recognizably related to subsequent generations of warm-air furnaces on which many Americans would continue to rely for their winter comfort for well over a century.

Pettibone's wasn't just an idea: it rapidly became a workable product, installed in prosperous urban homes and in large institutional buildings incapable of being kept warm efficiently by traditional open fires, or even by iron stoves.  Most of his early clients were in Philadelphia, the city he had made his home, but he was well connected in the nation's capital too, and in 1809 one of his furnaces was placed in the White House.  He supplied a stove for the office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives in 1813, and a furnace installation for the House of Representatives itself in 1818 (the War of 1812, and British burning of Washington, explains the delay).  It cost $2,000 -- $1.27 million in 2012 terms, using the same conversion method (nominal GDP per capita) as elsewhere in this post.  This was a lot of money, but Pettibone's furnace gave forty years' satisfactory service.

An early form of the furnace: 1808 Patent, Drawing 2.

The mature form -- stove, heat exchanger, drum, air pipes.  1812 Patent, Drawing 6.
In each case, note external fresh air supply and control valves in pipework.

Samuel Dickey, "Description of a Kitchen Stove," Memoirs of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Johnson & Warner, 1815), pp. 290-5,

[Illustration, p. 290]

Dickey, from Oxford in Chester County, Pennsylvania, had patented his brick-set cast-iron cooking range (U.S. Patent 670X, destroyed in the great Patent Office Fire in 1836) in 1806, and communicated this paper to the Society in 1808. But it was not printed until 1815, by which time a succession of savage winters and the British naval blockade of coastal shipping had increased urban middle-class consumers' interest in fuel economy. This isn't, strictly speaking, an advertisement, in that Dickey didn't have to pay for its publication, but it is an attempt to inform, educate, and persuade consumers of the advantages of stoves in general, and Dickey's in particular.  Dickey's device included an enclosed, controllable fire; two ovens; three boiling-holes for cooking pots; and a heat-exchanger drum in the smoke flue, to increase the device's efficiency and make sure that it was still going to be able to heat the kitchen enough despite its low fuel consumption.  Later fixed cooking ranges didn't look and work quite like Dickey's, but they were in a sense its descendants, in that he and other pioneers had helped to develop the demand to which later inventors and designers responded.

Dickey's idea certainly wasn't entirely novel -- Count Rumford's not too dissimilar "Rumford Apparatus" for cooking was attracting some upper-middle-class consumers at the time, and Oliver Evans, the early republic's most ingenious mechanician, had also developed, used, and publicized a kitchen oven that doubled as a hot-air furnace in the previous decade (see above).  But Dickey's appliance, with its single enclosed fire, liberal use of cast iron, and ability to perform most kitchen operations (including heating plenty of water), pointed toward the future more clearly than either of theirs.

"Postley's Patent Cooking Stove," The American Magazine 1:9 (Feb. 1816): 326-7,, the first surviving 'advertorial' of which I can find an online copy.
[Illustration, p. 326]

Charles Postley was a New York cooper (barrel-maker) who became a stove inventor, maker, and dealer during the War of 1812.  His device differed from Dickey's and Evans's in that, like the ten-plate stoves an increasing number of Americans in the Middle Atlantic states were accustomed to relying on for some of their cooking needs, it was a free-standing appliance.  Dickey's market was relatively wealthy households in the most mature stove-using district (Philadelphia and its hinterland).  Postley's was potentially much larger, not simply because he was based in New York, the main distribution point for Pennsylvania- and New Jersey-made stoves to the growing markets in the towns and cities of Eastern Seaboard and the Hudson Valley, but because his stoves (actually the first free-standing ranges, because they were placed against a wall rather than sticking out into the kitchen) were cheaper and, crucially, portable.  They were capable not simply of being affordably transported hundreds of miles from the places where they were made to wherever their potential consumers lived, but also of being moved along with their other valuable possessions by mobile urban and rural households, whereas a brick-set range was a built-in fixture.

Postley stayed in the stove trade for another thirty years, making a large enough success by the early 1830s that he even bought his own Pennsylvania blast furnace to supply the castings he needed.  This is probably why the patent for his "Reservoir Cooking Stove" was restored after the 1836 Fire -- see U.S. Patent 2297X (1815); though what is illustrated here is probably a version of his 1814 Patent 2074X, "Cooking and Heating Stove," which was not.  The 1815 patent may have seemed more worth restoring, because it proved Postley's claim to be the first inventor to use a design feature that became common, the downdraft flue, as well as the water heater operated by a coil of copper pipe inside the fire.  Most stoves continued for some decades to use the simpler but cruder technique of putting a great heavy boiler on top -- see the picture of the James stove, below.

Proof that Postley's market extended well beyond the city is provided by out-of-town advertisements, e.g. this from Newburgh, 60 miles up the Hudson, in the Orange County Patriot of August 27th, 1816 (p. 1), which uses the same illustrative woodcut as The American Magazine -- evidence that Postley was already supplying merchants selling his stoves with the advertising copy that they needed in order to promote it:

Postley's stoves had reached Albany, 150 miles upriver, by 1818 (C.W. Groesbeck & Co.'s General barter Store ad., The Albany Argus 5 May 1818, p. 1) and were on sale as far away as Cincinnati by 182#.

James Gleason's Improved Patent Steam Kitchen and Steam Kitchen Stoves advertisement, Paxton's Philadelphia Annual Advertiser, bound with John A. Paxton, The Philadelphia Directory and Register, for 1819 (Philadelphia: Paxton, 1819), -- illustrating an alternative stove type that never took off; not hard to understand, given that it was at least twice [$43-$90] the price of a regular cooking stove [$15-$50]. An interesting thing about Gleason's ad is its emphasis on the importance to the early stove trade of consumers whose cooking needs were hardest to satisfy on a standard kitchen fireplace, either because of the number of people they were feeding (large families, taverns, boarding houses, or institutions) or where they were doing it (aboard a ship, where open fires were dangerous and therefore iron "cabouses" were already normal).  A stove was accordingly a much more attractive purchase for these consumers than for an ordinary household and, crucially, they could also afford it more easily or, in shipowners' case, not do without it.  Note that James, Postley, and Wilson all advertised their products in books published for mariners -- natural given the importance of the caboose market to them, the waterfront location of their stores, and the fact that the early American stove trade was almost entirely dependent on shipping for anything other than local transportation anyway, so the two industries were symbiotic.  Gleason's backing of the wrong (technological) horse was not fatal to him: he remained in business for the next quarter-century, selling more conventional goods.

"James & Cornell's Stove Factories" ad. (date stated as 1823) in Edmund M. Blunt, The American Coast Pilot (New York: Author, 1822), unpaginated back matter, -- an early surviving display advertisement, for William James's patent cooking stove (also an 1815 invention, No. 2294X), which enjoyed a much broader market than Gleason's or Postley's.

James's patents do not survive, but at least one example of his stoves does, in the Old Sturbridge Village collection -- see  It's apparently the No. 2/$45 size, sold to a New Hampshire family in 1827 and in continuous use for the next eighty years.  The image makes some of the details illustrated above quite clear:  The James stove was simpler than Postley's, lacking its fitted water heaters, though about the same price (Postley's was $20-$45, but not including utensils).  Like Postley's it was scalable, to meet different needs and pockets.  Unlike his it was also fully equipped.  This was necessary because of the size and peculiar (oval) shape of the holes in the top plate in which the kettle and pans fitted.  Note that James (and his partner Cornell in Boston) did business in all of the three main market places (New York, the Albany-Troy district, and Boston) from which consumers along the North-Eastern seaboard, in inland New England, and in Western New York State and the Great Lakes region were served.

The Beginning of the Albany Stove Industry, 1819 -- Warner Daniels & Co. ads., The Ploughboy [Albany] 1:1 (5 June 1819), 8 [repeated, with different heraldry, on the back page of each issue].

It would be another twenty years before Albany more or less completed its transition from being essentially a river and then also a canal port, to which Pennsylvania and New Jersey furnace-cast stove plates (or New York-made stoves like James's, Postley's, and Wilson's) were brought for assembly and sale, to being an iron manufacturing city whose foundries specialized in stoves of their own design.  But the Eagle Air Furnace was already supplying stoves, as well as the other castings a dynamic commercial farming region required. (N.B. It is not clear whether the "Oven and Close Stoves" Warner Daniels & Co. supplied were of their own make at this time, or whether they were just acting as merchants as well as manufacturers; but the Eagle Furnace certainly became a stove foundry in the long run, as this part of its business grew to be larger and more profitable than all of the others, which were eventually abandoned.)

James Wilson ad. in Nathaniel Bowditch, The New American Practical Navigator (New-York: Edmund M. Blunt, 1821), unpaginated advertising back matter,

James Wilson was a merchant in Poughkeepsie, then an important center for river and coastal shipping [Edmund Platt, The Eagle's History of Poughkeepsie from the Earliest Settlements 1683 to 1905 (Poughkeepsie: Platt & Platt, 1905), pp. 81-2, 86, 92?], when he patented a Franklin Stove in 1816 (U.S. Patent No. 2450X, now lost, as is that for his 1824 "Making Franklin and Cooking Stoves," 3830X), a masterpiece of Federal Era design of which fine examples survive in major museums -- the Metropolitan and Old Sturbridge Village (a closed and open version, respectively) -- and other collections, public and private (see Peirce, Fire on the Hearth, pp. 50-53).  The Wilson Patent, in its closed version (i.e. with doors) is pretty much the elegant prototype of what we might think of as a Franklin Stove today, and was in fact the first such stove to call itself a Franklin in its title (the second was later in 1816, by one of Wilson's Poughkeepsie neighbors and, presumably, unsuccessful competitors, John F. VanSicler -- no traces of any VanSicler Franklins survive, so his may have been a mere "paper patent").

Shortly after his invention, and presumably to exploit it to the full, he moved to New York City and joined Postley among the founding members of the stove trade based in Water Street on the Lower East Side. Success came quickly and on a big scale: by the early 1820s he had leased a blast furnace at Millville in New Jersey, taking almost all of its output of castings (c. 500 tons a year).  As his ad makes clear, he sold by then a full range of stoves for a wide variety of uses and customers, operating as a retailer in the city market and as a wholesaler for out-of-town dealers; though this ad naturally emphasized the products he made specifically for maritime use, given its place of publication.  He also sold the right to use his patents to foundry operators in sections of the country where he did not expect to market his own goods -- e.g. "Worcester Cattle Show Reports," New England Farmer 8:17 (13 Nov. 1829): 133-4 at p. 134: Rice & Miller of Worcester, MA, had entered a Wilson's Patent Cooking Stove made at the Brookfield, MA furnace -- which is probably why surviving Wilson Franklins are so relatively numerous and widespread.

James Wilson's and Charles Postley's advertisements (date stated as 1826) in Joseph Blunt, The Merchant's and Shipmaster's Assistant (New-York: Edmund M. Blunt, 1822), unpaginated back matter,

There is a nice picture of one of Postley's La Fayette Franklins in Peirce, Fire on the Hearth, p. 49:

The 1826 date of these advertisements is a bit paradoxical, given that the book they were printed in was published four years earlier -- I assume that it must have been a subsequent impression?  But what they show is the further development of the business of the two main players in the New York City trade.  Three interesting features: (a) the continuing broadening of the product-line and, presumably, market; (b) the very early references to anthracite (Lehigh and Schuylkill) as well as imported British ("Liverpool") bituminous coal; and (c) Postley's advertising technique of rounding up endorsements from satisfied customers -- a good way of selling what could be quite costly, upscale goods.  A $100 parlour grate in 1826 cost the equivalent in 2012 dollars of $68,300, using the nominal GDP per capita method (; the cheapest Wilson sold cost $5/$3,415.

The scale of Postley's trade (or at least, of what he claimed) is shown in his advertisements in the New York press by the end of the 1820s -- e.g. this, from the front page of the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, 21 November 1829 (i.e. at the height of the season when customers were buying stoves for the winter): Postley's stock amounted to at least 2,900 stoves as well as the "large supply" of his "patent Columbian Cambouses."  By 10 March 1831, i.e. at the end of another winter, when retail customers needed to replace stoves that had burnt out or broken, and jobbers and dealers wanted to replenish their own stock, he advertised in the same newspaper, again on its front page, that he had 4,000 stoves on hand, including 500 cabooses -- a substantial fraction (almost a tenth) of total U.S. annual output.  Postley probably made a habit of announcing stock levels to impress potential buyers with how substantial and reliable a trader he was, and how well able to meet their needs -- important information for jobbers and other local merchants and hardware or tinware dealers depending on him for their own supplies.  (Apologies for the colour, but this is the way I mark up PDFs of early C19th newspaper pages, which are small-print and mostly solid text, their columns crammed with advertisements and announcements like this.)

James & Cornell's, Postley's, and Wilson's ads show traders in Boston, New York, and the Hudson Valley following essentially the same business practices, and carrying the same kinds of products, by the 1820s.  So too does an ad from Philadelphia, original home of the stove trade, to which I devoted a whole post (and a lot of digging around) last year []. Finally, looking towards the future, we have the Albany merchants Heermans, Rathbone & Co.'s ad from the Geneva Gazette and General Advertiser for 10 June 1829, p. 1 (also in the American Masonick Record, and Albany Saturday Magazine 3:19 [6 June 1829], p. 151 and in every issue, i.e. a standard ad across Heermans & Rathbone's large market area), showing a smoking James-type stove to its interested customers:

Why does this ad look to the future?  Because Heermans, Rathbone & Co. were already, or were soon to be, reportedly the largest stove merchants in America, and certainly in Albany and Troy.  The center of gravity of the market had shifted from the seaboard cities up to the head of tidal navigation on the Hudson, and the start of the Erie and Champlain canal systems, the New York Capital District.  At the end of the 1820s and into the early 1830s, Albany's and Troy's stove merchants still imported most of their castings from South East Pennsylvania and the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  Within a decade they would take control of the entire business, and the rural blast furnaces that had served the industry's growth for a century would go cold and silent.

1 comment:

  1. Superb research and story-telling. Bravo!

    I have just acquired a Heermans, Rathbone & Co. box stove which led me to these pages. Thank you for sharing your scholarship.