The Stove: Center of the Home
If you enjoy cooking or baking, then you understand the importance of having a good stove. We live in a time of modern conveniences and technologies that help make our cooking experiences easier. We have so many gadgets to choose from: crockpots, air-fryers, toaster ovens, electric and gas stoves, induction stoves, various forms of outdoor grills and (for lazy folks) microwaves. These devices are designed to cook our food faster, or with little effort so that we can enjoy our meals and carry on with the rest of our day. Now imagine living in the 19th century. Whether you were a housewife, a servant, or a cook in a restaurant, making the daily meals would not just keep you busy, it would take up much of your day.
Prior to 1790, households relied mostly on open hearths or large indoor fireplaces, with bake ovens cut into the brickwork alongside. Smoke in the household was a common annoyance until the invention of the kitchen range by Sir Benjamin Thompson. Thompson discovered that by adding a choke to the chimney, the smoke would exit the chimney faster while the heat lingered longer, thus changing the chimney design. He then created a range with holes at the top of the chimney that could allow for the placement of pots for cooking while the fire burned below. Interestingly, stove designs didn’t evolve too much during the 19th and 20th centuries. These giant hunks of metal could be plain and entirely utilitarian or be beautiful works of art that served as an ornament of the kitchen. One could use either wood or coal for these early stoves, which remained the preferred source for fuel for well over a century. Although gas stoves were invented in the 1830s, they didn’t see regular use in the United States until the 20th century.
In Poughkeepsie, there were plenty of stove dealers along Main Street, beginning in the early 1800s and continuing through the century. There were advertisements in the Poughkeepsie Journal in 1819 of a primitive and basic stove with very little frill or decoration. By 1866, the City Directory had advertisements for stoves and fireplace heaters produced in New York City that looked fit for display at the Louvre. These were not the kind of stoves that just anyone could afford. In a thesis written by Phyllis Minerva Ellin in 1985, she determined that it was the middle class who typically invested in these fancier stoves as the poor could not afford them, “…and the wealthy had servants to bear the household drudgery; appeals of convenience held little allure for employers.”
One of the earliest photographs that the library has of Main Street is from 1866. Identified in the photo is the storefront of William Frost and Son. This company–located at 291 Main on the corner of Garden street–sold stoves, heaters, and various other tin, copper and brass kitchen tools. In this photo, it appears to be the same stove advertised in the Poughkeepsie Journal, the Lafayette gas-burning, and the hot-air cooking stove. As we mentioned earlier, it took a long time before gas-burning stoves became the preferred cooking method and even longer before electric stoves were popularized. The debate continues today as to which is the better cooking method.
Interestingly, Americans were late to develop and incorporate new cooking technology into their lives in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The basic principles of the cooking stove didn’t change for over a century, even while modern inventions and bold advancements were happening in almost every other field. However, within the past 70 years we have been exposed to every possible kitchen gadget imaginable and have eagerly purchased such devices. Perhaps we do it out of FOMO (fear of missing out) or to make our crazy lives less hectic.
Ellin, Phyllis Minerva, “At Home with the Range: The American Cooking Stove, 1865-1920.” 1985, University of Pennsylvania.
Poughkeepsie Journal: 10 Sep 1819, 2 Aug 1845, 29 Oct 1862
Poughkeepsie City Directories – 1866, 1875
PJ-Sep-15-1819 – An advertisement for a stove in the 1819 Poughkeepsie Journal
PJ-Oct-29-1862 – An advertisement for the Lafayette Stove at Wm. Frost and Son in the Poughkeepsie Journal, 1862.
Sheppardad-PD – An advertisement for Sheppard Stoves in the Poughkeepsie City Directory, 1866.
Frostad-PD – An advertisement for Wm. Frost and Son in the Poughkeepsie City Directory, 1866.
37LD24a – A photograph of Wm. Frost & Son, 291 Main Street, circa 1866. https://mainandmarket.poklib.org/digital/collection/MainStreet/id/37/rec/3