Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cast Iron Cook Stoves

Pot Belly stove inside schoolroom

Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the pot belly stove. A cute appliance used to heat a room, the pot belly stove is made from cast iron and has a bulge in the middle, hence the name. The stove was mainly found in the mercantile or school house, and later on train cars. Some pot bellies were equipped with a shelf to boil a pot of coffee or to cook a pot of stew. Franklin is also credited with inventing a large cast iron box that was set on top of the hearth and used for cooking, but it’s Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, who takes credit for designing a flat topped cook stove with an oven to control heat as early as 1790. Rumford was considered an engineering pioneer and the first to scientifically study heat transfer. It was his goal to move cooking from the hearth to the kitchen. Originally, his stoves were made of brick masonry, but with the growth of the American coal and iron industries in 1820, cast iron soon became the rage.

smaller cast iron cook stove
Cast iron stoves are flat on the top, with perforated round ports that open to the fire below. Little by little, they became more popular in the States, and as the demand for them grew, improvements to the design were implemented. The stove was made bigger to accommodate extra burners, dual ovens, warming ovens and additional storage space such as shelves. At first, different types of wood were used to heat the stove. A woman had to learn which wood burned the hottest and the longest in order to prepare meals. Though stoves were manufactured in the same fashion, no two cooked the same, which proved challenging until one became adept at using her own stove. After the Civil War, coal replaced wood as the source to heat the stove. 
larger cook stove

Early on, stoves intended for use in or beside the hearth were retrofitted to expel the smoke through the existing hearth and flue. When the appliance was moved to the kitchen, a metal pipe was fitted to the stove on end and inserted into a new chimney on the other end that was smaller in size then the hearth flue. Most homes weren’t built to accommodate the new design so ells were added to the kitchen to house the new cook stove.

gas heated cook stove
The American cook stove saw another significant change in the early 1900’s when heating the stove went from coal to gas. Cooking by gas had been popular in England since the 1860’s, but many Americans thought gas too expensive, and some claimed gas left an after taste. But when gas companies saw electric companies infringing on their profits, they looked toward the kitchen stove in hopes of conquering a new market. Gas stoves didn’t need the heavy iron boxes to hold wood or coal or the pipes for exhaust, enabling manufacturers to design a new, smaller model. This idea went over well with smaller-sized homes. Another benefit of the gas stove was its lightness. The appliance could stand on tall, slender legs and eventually became known as a free standing piece of furniture, the same as the sink. 

While the stove has taken on even more changes throughout the 1900’s, most notably with the use of electricity, cast iron stoves are still in existence. In the hustle and bustle of today’s society, whether in the city or the country, the cast iron stove adds a feeling of nostalgia to any kitchen, taking one back to the days when families gathered around the kitchen table for a meal, for heat, and for conversation.

1 comment:

Shanna Hatfield said...

What a great post, Julie. I love old cook stoves. My parents had a huge black beauty they eventually donated to a local museum.