Kitchen stoves that utilized fire to cook replaced open fires and braziers as a source of both cooking and heat. [A hunk of iron weighing over 500 pounds and heated from within also radiates considerable heat for the entire house.]

Kitchen Stoves

Kitchen stoves that utilized fire to cook replaced open fires and braziers as a source of both cooking and heat. [A hunk of iron weighing over 500 pounds and heated from within also radiates considerable heat for the entire house.] Central heating, of course, replaced kitchen appliances as sources of heating homes. “The fuel-burning stove is the most basic design of kitchen stove. Nearly half of the people in the work [mainly in the developing world], burn biomass [wood, charcoal, crop residues, and dung] and coal in rudimentary cook stoves or open fires to cook their food. Today, natural gas and electric stoves are the most common in western countries.

Prior to the 18th century in Europe, people cooked over open fires fueled by wood. Cooking in the Middle Ages was done mainly in cauldrons hung above the fire or placed on trivets. Heat levels were regulated by placing the cauldron higher or lower above the fire. An early step was the ‘fire chamber’ the fire was enclosed on three sides by brick and mortar walls and covered by an iron plated. As these methods involving fireplaces were replaced by self-contained iron stoves, cookware changed from rounded-bottom cauldrons to flat-bottomed pans.” [Google]`


Until electricity was brought into cities and much later when REA brought it into rural areas, lighting was done by kerosene lamps and some cooking by kerosene stoves. Stoves and coal oil [kerosene] that fueled them originated in Pennsylvania. [Pennz-Oil, Quaker State Oil]

George Bissell organized a group of investors who hired Benjamin Silliman, Jr., a chemist, who found that rock oil could easily be fractionated into various substances, including kerosene, by heating it. Rock oil was plentiful because it was a by-product of drilling for salt. The company wondered if the derricks and drilling methods used in obtaining salt could be used to drill for oil and sent Edwin Drake to Titusville to find out. August 27, 1859 he struck oil at 69 feet—the nation’s first oil well. The problem then became finding enough barrels to hold the oil that gushed out. John D. Rockefeller built the first refinery of his company , the Standard Oil Co, South of Cleveland in 1870 and subsequently—through crooked monopolistic practices--he became the richest man in U.S. history. His first product was kerosene for stoves and lamps—kerosene replacing whale oil in the latter. [2]

Iron Stoves

If you visit Lincoln’s home in Springfield you will see a small iron stove in their kitchen. These stoves were for cooking as well as heating their home. Some had flues extending out of the ceiling of the kitchen to an upstairs room providing heat to the second floor. They all had round openings on top covered by a round iron cap for heating pans. The heart of the stove was a boiler where coal or wood burned to produce the heat. Underneath the boiler was a grate allowing spent fuel to drop into a tray which was removed periodically and carried outside to an ash heap. Some had square containers next to the boiler to provide heated water. Later, overhead hoods were added which were used to bake bread or keep cooked food warm until meal time.I have provided pictures of both types of stove which came into use just after the turn of the century when the vintage books I recently bought were printed.

Catalog No.41, June 1898

The characteristics of the stoves in this catalog are listed as for hard or soft coal [anthracite, bituminous], or wood. Note they hadn’t yet introduced natural gas stoves. They were made of all cast iron, had either right or left hand fire boxes, balanced oven doors, and nickeled top bands.

In the 1925 catalog the lightest stove was No.312 at 90 pounds and the heaviest No. 244 weighing in at a hefty 635 pounds. [The 1898 catalog provided no weights.] The cheapest stove in the 1898 catalog was No.3 at $2.75 and the priciest was No. 718 at $64. Keep in mind that the average workman in 1898 made $13 a week and in 1925 made $23 a week.

My grandparents had a huge iron cooking stove fueled by wood or coal similar to one of the pictures here. Fuel was free by cutting down trees outside their rural Arkansas farm. Elaine’s grandparent’s iron stove was smaller and fueled by ‘coal oil’ or kerosene.

Old Timers will vividly remember cold mornings when they gingerly backed up to a hot stove until it was too hot to stay that close. The stove may have been heated by wood, coal or even natural gas, but regardless it was the only heat available in the house. With central heat and air in houses now, there is no place to get a quick warm-up. I miss it.

[1] Cinderella: Stoves and Range, Allegheny, Penna., De Haven & Co. Ltd., , Catalogue, No.41, 1898. Telephone No. 7, Manchester. Moore’s Stoves, Ranges, Furnaces, Joliet, Illinois, Catalog No. 43, 1925.

[2] Gordon, John Steele, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power, NY: Harper Collins, 2004, p.170.

[3] Special thanks to Ivert and Jeanette Mayhugh, A Touch of Class Antique Mall, Sherman, TX.