Stoves – An Interesting Evolution

Our ancient ancestors first began cooking over open fires millions of years ago. Throughout the ages cultures developed cooking vessels that could be placed on rocks, or stands, and be heated from beneath. Some vessels with two or more handles were hung by rope from a tripod over an open flame.

Early clay stoves that enclosed the fire completely were used in the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206/207 BC). A similar stove, a kamado, appeared in the Kofun period (3rd–6th century) in Japan. Both stoves burned wood or charcoal, which were fed through a hole at the front. Pots were either placed over or hung into holes at the top to cook food. These stoves were only knee-high, but during the Japanese Edo period (1603–1867) raised kamados became popular.

In Europe during the middle ages (500-1500 AD), waist-high hearths constructed of brick and mortar were introduced. These were usually in the center of the room, with the smoke rising up from the wood fire through a hole in the roof. Later these hearths were built at the side of the room with a chimney to funnel the smoke from the fire. The food was cooked mostly in cauldrons, either placed on trivets (three-legged stands made of metal, used for supporting cooking vessels in a hearth) or hung above the fire. The heat was adjusted by raising or lowering the cauldron.

Open fire cooking was not only dangerous, but it produced a lot of smoke, and the ability to control the temperature was poor. A construction called the fire chamber was an early attempt to solve these problems and reduce wood consumption. Brick-and-mortar walls were built around the fire on three sides, which was then covered by an iron plate. As a result, pots with flat bottoms had to be used for cooking instead of cauldrons.

In 1735 the Castrol stove was built by French architect François de Cuvilliés. Also known as the stew stove, it was a masonry construction that enclosed a fire completely, with several openings covered by iron plates with holes. Toward the end of the 18th century changes were made that allowed pots to be hung in holes through the top iron plate, making it more heat efficient.

The first iron stoves for heating purposes were made in Europe in the late 15th century. A typical early iron stove was the jamb, or 5-plate stove. Dutch, Swedish, and German settlers in the American colonies brought these stoves and casting molds with them when they emigrated in order to survive the cold winters. Six-plate, 9-plate, and 10-plate stoves soon followed, which included small ovens. Although the 5-plate stove was not a cooktop, the top plate was smooth, and contrary to current opinion, was occasionally used as a cooking surface. Certain foods were cooked on top of the jamb stove, and it’s been reported that three different types of cakes were made on it, including buckwheat cakes.

In 1737, Ann Nutt, the widow of ironmaster Samuel Nutt, established Warwick Furnace in Chester County. She added a pot warmer to the top of the 10-plate stove that could be used for stovetop cooking.

Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, is credited with inventing the cook stove in the 1790’s. It was made of brick, with holes in the top to insert pots, and contained a round oven. However, his stove was too large to be used in regular domestic kitchens. Rumford’s combination of the oven and a flat-topped heat source is credited as the beginning of the modern kitchen range.

Stove design improved steadily in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the 1850’s most urban middle-class kitchens had cooking stoves. Notable events in the development of the stove included:

In 1850 Mary Evard invented the Reliance Cook Stove. It was divided in two — one half for dry baking, the other half for moist. Her patents were issued on April 7, 1868, and she displayed this stove at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

In 1867 Elizabeth Hawks of New York received a patent for her Auxiliary Air-Chamber for Stoves. It was a baking attachment for stoves that spread the heat more evenly inside bread loaves, while still keeping the top crust tender.

In the 1880’s the gas stove became commercially successful in England, even though it was much earlier in 1826 that James Sharp had received a patent for it in Northampton, England. He didn’t open a gas stove factory until 1836. By the 1880’s a large and reliable network for piping gas had developed over much of the country, making gas relatively cheap and efficient for domestic use. Gas stoves only became widespread on the European Continent and in the United States in the early 1900’s.

In 1892 Thomas Ahearn received a patent for an electric stove. It was displayed in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair. The electric stove was slow to catch on, due to: unfamiliar technology; cities and towns weren’t electrified; electricity cost more than wood, coal or gas; electrical supply company only had limited power; temperature regulation was poor; heating elements had a short life.

In 1905 David Curle Smith patented his electric stove (the Kalgoorlie stove). It was the first practical design, and later became the prototype for most electric stoves.

In the early 1900’s cooking became the main function of a stove as central heating became the norm.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s electric stoves were competing seriously with gas stoves. Over the next decades electric stoves became more popular and outnumbered gas units.

The first technology for electric stoves used resistive heating coils that heated iron hotplates. These later developed into spiral hollow steel tubes with heating elements running through the middle. In the 1970’s glass-ceramic cooktops became available. The heating elements for these are electrical heating coils or infrared halogen lamps. Induction cooking is a third technology for electric stovetops. Induction stoves use powerful electromagnets placed under a smooth glass-ceramic surface to heat cookware. Induction stovetops are also being created now as single, solid-cast iron surfaces.

Today there’s a wide variety of stoves to choose from, including electric ranges, gas ranges, and dual-fuel ranges. You can choose ovens that are free standing, built-in, steam, convection, conduction, or multifunctional. There are also built-in cooktops for counters that come in a variety of types: gas, glass-ceramic electric smooth-top, electric coil, and induction.

Whatever type of stove you’re using, you can count on C&W Appliance Services to keep it in top condition.  Call us at (855) 358-1496 or (214) 358-1496 or fill out our service request form for a prompt response.

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