Benjamin Franklin is probably best-known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. But, he will always be appreciated as the founding father of the modern day wood stove.
Humankind has been using fire for heat - and all sorts of other uses - for thousands of years, but it is only in the past 400 years that wood stoves were established as the most efficient way of doing this.
A foundry based in Massachusetts is credited with being the first to construct a box of cast iron plates with the intention of burning wood inside in 1642.
It was over 100 years later when Franklin created the Franklin stove. The Pennsylvania-based politician and inventor created a stove with a hollow baffle at the back with the intention of increasing the heat and reducing the amount smoke that would escape into a room.
There is a European invention of the modern stove too. In 1735, the Belgian architect Francois de Cuvilliés introduced his Castrol stove – which later became known as the ‘stew stove’. This was an enclosed stove with a flat top. Cuvilliés’ idea was for meals to be warmed on top of the stove.
The stew stove pre-dates the Franklin stove, but was a masonry construction covered in perforated iron plates whereas Franklin’s design was made of metal.
The Franklin stove design he refused to patent – has evolved over the years but has retained many of its original features.
One of the most well-known developments in the stove’s history came at the end of the 18th century when Benjamin Thompson published an article explaining about chimneys with slanted fireback and adjustable flue damper which became the norm in the majority of stoves.
Thompson’s design was mainly for large estates and working kitchens in stately homes, so the next stage in the history of the wood burner saw the stove being scaled down to be incorporated into more homes.
This was done very well by Philo Stewart, who patented the Oberlin stove in the US in 1834. The cast-iron stove became a success when more than 90,000 were sold over the next three decades. Similar small stoves were also becoming popular in Europe during this period.
Basically these designs have stood the test of time. Aesthetically, stoves have moved on according to the tastes of the times but the basic ideas have been constant.
The main advancements lately have been the steps towards efficiency and, more recently, a reduction in household energy bills. Biofuel stoves, which burn biomass or pellets and gas stoves, have been introduced.
Another popular innovation has the heat from the stove being used to heat a back-boiler. The stove boiler can be linked into the central heating to heat the rest of the property and wash water.
Old Traditional stoves are made from cast iron panels joined together. Improvements in the quality of steel selected and welding have allowed air-tight stoves to be manufactured from sheets of steel. As well as improving efficiency, this also allows more intricate stove designs.
With the popularity of wood burning stoves now on the rise once again, it will be interesting to see how they will be improved in the coming years.
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