Stoves served several purposes in 19th century and early 20th century American homes--in addition to cooking, they provided a central heating source for the house and, depending on the style, added an element of opulence to the kitchen. The first stoves used for cooking evolved from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Fireplace, which revolutionized home furnaces. Manufacturers modified the Pennsylvania Fireplace’s design, which Franklin chose to leave unpatented, by adding a flat surface for cooking on top of the fire box.
1820 to 1860
The cast iron, step-top style stove proliferated in the domestic appliance market from the 1820s to the 1860s. A top-placed oven characterized the step-top stove, which had a range beneath it that extended outward, both of which combined resembled two ascending steps. Prominent manufacturers and brands of the step-top style stove during this time period included the J. Woodruff and Sons #8 Young American, the Waterloo No. 2 St. Johns and the Chattanooga Stove Company.
1860 to 1892
In approximately the middle of the 19th century, many manufacturers began placing ovens below the range top. Cast iron was still the material of choice, and notable manufacturers and models included the 1870 Waterloo, the 1847 Spaulding and the 1892 Perfect Improved.
Victorian-style stoves produced from 1837 to 1901 were commonly embellished with nickel adornments of ecclesiastical symbols, such as angels, and many top models were powered by a combination of wood and gas fueling. Victorian-style ranges, which were as large as 45 inches wide and 38 inches deep, dwarfed other stoves of that era, which were often 18 inches to 24 inches wide. Their features included large warming closets, and as many as four ovens of varying sizes. Prominent manufacturers of Victorian-style stoves included Grander Stove Company, Wehrle Stove Factory, Garland and Michigan Stove Company.
By the mid-19th century, stove manufacturers began modifying the configuration and style of cook stoves, and introduced natural gas as a fueling option. These changes carried over to the early 20th century. Many of these stoves were fabricated from steel, and several high-end models had a porcelain enamel finish. Stoves of this era were often distinguished by a "chest-high" oven, placed offset to the right. Several stoves featured accouterments previously unavailable, such as attached supplementary ovens, food warmers and the option of four or six burners. Noteworthy stove manufacturers of the early 20th century included Gaffers and Sattler, Dixie, Tappan, Chambers, O'Keefe and Merritt, Roper and Wedgewood.