The origin of the modern thermo-stove is intertwined with the history of domestic heating and cooking. From the Iron Age onwards, humans sought to cook and heat their homes with a source of fire contained within their dwelling. Over ten thousand years or more, the designs slowly matured to the point where by the 18th century it became clear that different requirements for cooking and heating would result in the creation of appliances designed specifically for each function.
A number of factors had led to this desire for ‘independent’ heating devices. The middle class was becoming more affluent and demanded houses that separated kitchen, living room, and dining room. Their upward mobility aspirations found cooking and eating in one room unacceptable. These same ‘consumers’ also began to demand heat sources, which did not waste 80 – 90% of the fuel down the chimney – they did not have the unlimited budgets of the landlords. Finally, the Industrial Revolution had generated an ideal material for the construction of heating stoves: cast iron. First perfected by Abraham Darby in Coalbrookdale in the early 1700s, cast iron was Georgia’s great building material with all its attributes of easy fabrication, easy casting, and good thermal qualities.
By the 17th century, country gentlemen had begun experimenting with stove-like designs. In fact, Prince Rupert, in particular Charles I’s nephew, was probably responsible for the first convector fire. However, it was another 100 years or so before we got to see the work of the two true pioneers of today’s stove designs: American patriot Benjamin Franklin and British aristocrat turned ‘Yankee rebel’ Count Rumford. Franklin, whose scientific experiments included the dangerous habit of kite-flying in thunderstorms, realized that fuel burning out of control on a grill imparted little heat to the room. His design used a convection chamber, much like today’s convection fires, to achieve greater fire efficiency. The air for this chamber was often taken from the basement, adding a degree of fresh air to the room. Rumford’s contribution was less to stoves than to fires in general. He first suggested the chimney throat to control and increase the draft of the chimney. He also used a variable metal damper in the chimney throat to add more control and stop drafts when the chimney was not running.
Although James Bodley patented the first stove design in 1802, his design was more of a cooking stove. In fact, for much of the 19th century, the love shown by the British for open fires limited the demand for stoves in the United Kingdom, while their demand flourished throughout colder continental Europe and in the USA. they also saw stoves as responsible for the severe air pollution that London suffered for 150 years from the early 19th century onwards. Early stove designs did not burn their coal with any real efficiency. They produced foul-smelling and irritating fumes, which were said to cause “stove malaria” and “iron cough”. Edinburgh’s nickname of ‘Auld Reekie’ dates from this time and refers to the foul smell of smoke from its myriads of open and closed coal fires.
Stoves were much more popular in the cooler climates of continental Europe and the newly liberated American states. Scotland, with its harsh winters and readily available supplies of coal and iron, proved to be an ideal location for stove making. The first third of the 19th century saw a number of innovators bring stoves to market. In 1830, Charles Portway designed and hand-built his first Tortoise stove in Halstead, Essex. Charles owned a hardware store, and when neighboring stores saw how effective his stove was, they all wanted one. Portway opened a small foundry that, by the turn of the 20th century, had produced more than 100,000 stoves. Meanwhile, in Norway, Adelsten Onsum founded the forerunner of today’s Jtul Company, Kverner Brug, in 1853. An entrepreneur in true Victorian style, Onsum started a series of industrial companies, but it was not until after he had lost control of Kverner Brug in the Norwegian financial crisis. from the 1880s that the name Jtul was adopted. As today, the stoves were made of the new and popular cast iron and offered the once shivering inhabitants of Norway the opportunity to keep warm during the long winters at a reasonably acceptable cost. American designs tended to be less ornate and many believe that ‘the West was won’ at the back of the pot-bellied stove that heated bar and cowboy ranch alike. Many were portable and moved west as new borders opened or from battle to battle as the Civil War took over most of the US land mass.
In the Black Country, The Cannon Hollowware Company, later to become Cannon Industries, produced a series of stoves heated by the now popular city gas. The most popular was probably the Grosvenor introduced in 1895, the Grosvenor was in vogue in part because, as the advertising blurb of the day informed potential buyers, “it comes complete with internal chambers to utilize the residual heat after it (leaves) the fire “. . This popular stove sold well in urban areas, came in two sizes, and can be seen as the forerunner of Cannon’s hundred years of involvement in gas stove production.
At the dawn of the 20th century, stoves were not a popular means of heating the living rooms of nations. The ‘working class’ could not afford coal for adequate heating, much less ‘expensive’ stoves to improve the way the fuel burned. The middle class within the cities used gas stoves, while country dwellers disliked the aesthetics of these heavily decorated appliances that seemed out of place in their demure homes. Among the landed gentry and the newly wealthy, stoves were popular, but not as a source of heating for public rooms. Large kitchens, utility rooms or nurseries may boast a stove, but the rooms visitors see include an open fire that was fed and cleaned by servants who made up 10% of the UK population before the First War. World.
Throughout the first sixty years of the 20th century, stoves were sold mainly to the commercial sector, to the growing number of offices, shops, train waiting rooms and public buildings, along with a flourishing export trade to the Empire. Smith & Wellstood’s 1912 catalog featured more than 200 designs (‘Kitcheners’ and heating stoves) with names such as Indess, The Moariess and Sultana. Prices hovered around 10 shillings (50 pence!) and demand kept Smith & Wellstood in business until the 1980s. Possibly the Company’s greatest claim to fame was its cooking stoves. Captain Scott took some on his ill-fated journey to reach the South Pole. One was found by an American expedition in 1953. They removed the ashes from it, relit it, and found it to work perfectly.
An opening for stoves came with the discovery of large deposits of anthracite in South Wales and Scotland. Immediately after World War I, mine owners approached Smith & Wellstood to make a stove that could burn anthracite. The aftermath of the war, with over a million men killed, meant that well-to-do households had difficulty finding servants, and anthracite, with its night-burning and clean products of combustion, required far less work than traditional designs. Smith & Wellstood produced a range of designs such as the Jeunesse, Artesse and Francesse, which were the forerunners of modern solid fuel room heaters. In recognition, the mine owners named their fuel ‘Stovesse’; the suffix … esse is the origin of the well-known Ouzledale foundry brand.
Clean air legislation in 1955/56 followed the month-long smoke-induced smogs of the early 1950s and curtailed any market that had existed for the solid fuel stove. For about fifteen years there was little market in the UK until oil prices quadrupled after the 1973 Six-Day Arab-Israeli War. Owners of large houses had installed oil boilers during the 1960s and now could not afford to heat its properties. Mainly rural dwellers, they desperately searched for another source of heating and realized that many of them had supplies of wood available on their land. Stoves became popular and have remained so to this day.