A wood stove could once be found in nearly every American home, but today, more efficient means of heating have taken over. Here’s a brief history of a centuries-old device, the wood-burning stove!
The first metal wood-burning stove is said to have been invented in 16th-century Europe, but the stove did not become more common until nearly 200 years later, during the Industrial Revolution.
In the 1740s, a wood shortage in Philadelphia inspired Benjamin Franklin to improve upon the existing open hearth. His three-sided iron box, aptly named the Franklin stove, used only one-quarter as much fuel as did a fireplace and could raise the room temperature higher in a shorter amount of time.
A Franklin stove, circa 1795. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Unfortunately, Franklin’s design was not as iron-clad as the product itself, and it did not end up gaining much popularity. Many subsequent wood stove designs did derive inspiration from Franklin’s stove, however.
Despite the wood stove’s superiority, people resisted the switch from the inefficient, wood gobbling, smoky open hearth to the hotter, more efficient fire contained by a wood stove. Were those rock-ribbed early settlers really romantics who preferred the dreamy glow of a crackling fire?
Robert Bailey Thomas, founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, wrote in 1823:
“So then, you have a cooking stove! This is economical, saving much wood and labour. I know it by experience. But many people are so prejudiced against them that they will scarcely look at one. Wood has become a cash article nowadays in my neighborhood. I have procured me one of Rich’s cooking stoves and think I save half my wood by it nearly.”
A simple wood stove used to heat a church building in Tarrytown, NY, circa early 1900s. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.
Practicality won out in the end, and by the beginning of the 20th century, 40 million American homes were heated with wood stoves, often a behemoth, nickel-plated Home Comfort or Queen Atlantic.
But, as people found other ways to heat their houses, the popularity of wood stoves waned, only to come around again in the 1970s. It was then that a new generation realized the truth behind the old country saying, “Wood warms you thrice—when you chop it, when you stack it, and when you burn it.”
Do you still use a wood stove in your home? Let us know in the comments!