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Three centuries of wood stove innovations

1. Image of a box stove from St. Maurice Foundry

1. A box stove from St. Maurice Foundry.
Click the image for more information.


You may be surprised to learn this, but until about 300 years ago cast-iron stoves were almost unheard of in Canada. Families cooked and heated with fireplaces or open fires, and the few stoves that were available were brought across the Atlantic in sailing ships from Europe. In 1741 that began to change when an iron foundry in Saint Maurice, near Trois Rivières, Quebec, began producing Canadian-made stoves. In time, some of the stoves from Les Forges du Saint Maurice (St. Maurice Foundry) became so well regarded that at least one foundry in Scotland began producing a “Canadian” stove.

The first stoves made in Canada were not so unique, however. At Saint Maurice they began with European box-stove designs — the five-plate or jamb stove originating in Germany and the “close,” later dubbed “six-plate,” stove. They were called plate stoves because they were assembled from flat plates of cast iron held together by rods. The five-plate stove was open at the back because it was designed to be installed in the wall that backed a fireplace in the next room. The six plater was closed all around and so could stand alone. The plate on the bottom of the stove was longer than the rest, so it protruded from the front, providing a place for ash to be gathered during the cleanout.

2. Image of a Franklin-style stove built in Halifax

2. Franklin-style stove from Nova Scotia.
Click the image for more information.


Stove making was taking off in the American colonies as well, particularly in Pennsylvania. One man at the forefront was Benjamin Franklin, a politician, writer, and inventor. His “Pennsylvania Fireplace” was an “open” stove, a cast-iron firebox that was open at the front and designed to fit in an existing fireplace so it could use the chimney flue. Franklin never sought a patent for his design, nevertheless, since then stoves inspired by his design have borne his name, no matter who improved upon it, which included many Canadian foundries.

The most popular plate stove of the 1700s was the 10 plater (the four extra plates were for an oven, which sat on top of the firebox). In some quarters it is considered to be the “grandfather” of all cookstoves.

Another stove, developed around the same time, 1760s, as the 10 plater was the cannon stove, which many think is the forerunner to the potbelly stove we associate with the Wild West.

3. Drawing of a Gurney Van pot-belly-style stove with an oven

3. Pot-belly style stove with an oven attachment.
Click the image for more information.


As cast iron became more plentiful and techniques for making it improved, stove designs became more elaborate. Thanks to the greater availability of a technique for making cast iron called “flask casting,” stove components could be curved, as was the case with the cannon stove, and could have raised areas on both sides. This led to more elaborate decoration of stove exteriors and more intricate airflow patterns inside.

Demands from customers for stoves that looked good in their homes also dictated stove evolution. In the 1800s cook stoves became increasingly sophisticated, culminating in appliances dedicated to the task called “ranges.” Stoves with fashionable classical columns and extensive decoration were built for the parlour, where guests might gather. Other stoves were uniquely shaped to fit special alcoves built into the walls of rooms, and yet another type was specially fitted out to heat two rooms instead of one. Stoves were also built for special applications: Laundry stoves and tailor’s stoves provided places where irons could be heated, small stoves were made for use on boats, and heaters warmed the feet in sleighs or the whole person in beds.

4. Image of a flat-iron stove

4. Flat-iron stove. Click the
image for more information.


Stove designers also answered fuel supply needs. One way of doing this was to improve airflow and combustion reducing overall fuel requirements. The other way was to make stoves that burned something other than wood, which was in short supply in many places even in the 1700s. To achieve that end, some stoves were designed to burn coal and more versatile models burned both fuels. In the late 1800s, when gas was becoming available in more and more communities, stoves were devised that burned it exclusively, while other consumed it along with wood and coal. The advantage of these latter stoves was that the appliance could run on wood or coal in the winter, when the excess heat these fuels produced would be welcome, and on gas in the summer, when families wanted their kitchen to stay cool.

5. Image of a combination gas and coal range

5. Combination gas and coal range.
Click the image for more information.


By the end of the century, stove manufacturers were producing catalogues showing their stove selections, which, by then were more than cast iron. Steel was used to make them lighter and more durable, nickel provided ornamentation, and mica served as window glass.

Many cast-iron stoves designed in the 1880s and 1890s enjoyed many years of popularity with little modification, though by the 1940s gas-fired, enameled-steel (easier to clean) ranges; electric ranges; and heating alternatives such as forced-air furnaces, hot water boilers, and electric baseboard heaters took over.

6. Image showing the fire box for a pellet heater

6. Fire box for a pellet heater showing
the auger. Click the image for more
information.


In the 1970s cast iron stoves enjoyed a resurgence because of the 1973 oil crisis, but the pollution they produced drew a lot of criticism and insurance companies became concerned with their safety. These issues, coupled with more stability in the oil markets, slowed the industry’s growth in the 1980s, but research did not stop. New stoves are more efficient, less polluting, safer, and easier to use. For example, pellets for a pellet stove are bought ready to use and optimized to burn cleaner than logs, and are dumped into a hopper that regulates their delivery to the firebox improving efficiency and reducing labour and emissions.

This photo gallery provides a brief tour of the many kinds of stoves that Canadian foundries have built over the past few centuries, as well as a couple of their ancestors. We hope you enjoy the tour. If you have anything to add to enrich this section of the website or if you wish to comment on this article, please use the feedback form.

Section Gallery

7. Photo of a Catherine Palace room stove-heater in Pushkin, Russia8. Image of a Gurney box stove 9. Animation showing smoke flow in a Gurney box stove

10. Image of an Acorn Oak base-burner stove that burned wood or coal11. Image d'une cuisinière à partir des années 193012. Image of a pellet stove


Article Sources

Three centuries of wood stove innovations

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #200).
  • S.E. (Samuel Eagle) Forman, Stories of useful inventions (New York: The Century co., 1911).
  • “Stove.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2009). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-stove.html.

SIDEBAR

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.
  • “Stove.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2009). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-stove.html.

Image Credits

Three centuries of wood stove innovations

  • Eden Pelletier.
  • Art Irwin.
  • The E. and C. Gurney Co., “Gurney's Standard Stoves, Ranges, Etc.” (Toronto: Jas. Murray and Co., 1892), via archives.org.
  • By --Kuerschner (own work, own possession) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
  • The Burrow, Stewart and Milne Co., Catalogue No. 74, Jewel Gas Stoves and Gas Appliances for Cooking and Heating for Manufactured or Natural Gas (Hamilton, ON: n.p., @1916), via archives.org.
  • By Hustvedt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Stan Shebs, Creative Commons.
  • The E. and C. Gurney Co., Gurney's Standard Stoves, Ranges, Etc. (Toronto: Jas. Murray and Co., 1892), via archives.org.
  • Ibid.
  • The James Smart Mfg., Co., Limited., Combined Catalogue and Wholesale Price List of Perfection Stoves, Ranges and Furnaces, Favorite Stoves and Ranges (Brockville, ON: The Recorder Printing Co., Ltd., 1890).
  • From an article by John Sewell, “Vintage stove in good shape,” Toronto Star, December 29, 2007, H8, via http://micromedia.pagesofthepast.ca.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/zyPageView.asp.
  • Edgewise, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), via Wikimedia Commons.