Evolution of the stove history in America dates back to the early colonies and area interest in the history is demonstrated in a portion of an article reprinted in the 1874 Nauvoo Independent newspaper:
Packard, … a patriarch of over eighty winters, sends to the Springfield Mass. Republican a bit of historical reminiscence about the oldest stove in America. A stove made in England in 1770, and still used to heat the State Capitol at Richmond, VA, has been widely credited as forming the greatest antiquity. Mr. Packard, however matches this relic with a specimen in Plymouth County, Mass. that out-dates it by nearly half a century…
While this history of the oldest stove in America predates settlement of the western frontier it demonstrates interest in creating comfortable living spaces and alternatives to the usual heating source, the fireplace. It also prompts the question, when and where did the stove industry begin in the tristate area?
With westward expansion and cold weather climates, stoves were in demand and every “modern” household had at least two stoves, one for heating and one for cooking. Most area towns and villages, even the tiniest, had dealerships in stoves and tin ware. Initially, stoves were designed to be merely functional but over time, great pride was taken in transforming them into works of art. Eventually these cast iron beauties with embossed and engraved motifs such as florals, cherubs and gargoyles became the centerpieces of area parlors.
Quincy was a prime location for manufacturing, shipping and receiving goods. The Comstock-Castle Stove Company had their beginning when Allen Comstock and Timothy H. Castle settled in Quincy and Adams Co. in the mid-1830s. Comstock opened a hardware store in Quincy and Castle opened one in nearby Columbus, Illinois. Stoves were transported by riverboat from St. Louis. They later started a foundry to manufacture stoves and other wares in 1846. The official start date is listed as 1849 in the number seventy-three Catalog. By 1862 Comstock Stove Company had branched into Keokuk, Iowa and was considered “at that time the oldest works west of the Mississippi.”
The Excelsior Stove Company was founded by John Christopher Fisher Jr., Samuel Wood, and Joseph Easterly in 1865. The Fisher family originated in Hanover Germany and located in Quincy about 1855. By 1880 the Excelsior Stove & Manufacturing Company in Quincy produced beautiful nickel-plated coal-wood ranges that were not only functional for cooking a meal but also served to warm the home. Dealers proudly used trade cards advertising both their business as well as their stock of stoves.
Company Founder, John Fisher Jr., is thought to have been a molder who first worked at the old Phoenix Foundry. A son, John J. Fisher was born in Quincy in 1867 and, by 1919, was president of the Excelsior Stove Manufacturing Company. Several other family members also worked for the company. Its products were sold worldwide.
The award winning Excelsior Stove Company claimed that title in a catalog showing a photo and the company achievment: “Highest Award Gold Medal.” The Noble National Award stove winner was advertised as being made for the use of soft coal, hard coal, or wood.
Another award winner, the Hotel National Double Oven Steel Range made by Excelsior sold for a list price of $240 with accessories and options costing $14.25 to $29.00 apiece. It is described in the following quote:
This range has two ovens and single fire; it is provided with a direct draft damper, and slide damper over the flues of each oven; these dampers may be operated at will, closing off one oven at any time. This leaves one oven in operation and the other serving as a warming closet. Both ovens may be operated at the same time. The fire box is provided with a duplex grate for coal (reversing the grate adapts it for wood). It has extra heavy substantial cast iron linings and large pouch feed door…
We have spared no expense to make this Range first-class in every respect, so as to withstand hard usage. While this construction will not permit us to compete with the cheap Ranges offered to the trade, our prices are as low and consistent with high-class construction….
The 1908-1909 catalog for Excelsior Stove and Manufacturing Company boasted that it was the “Largest Stove Plant in the West – Home of National Stove & Ranges. Trade Mark Guaranteed High Grade. Excelsior Stove & MFG. Co. Quincy, Ill. U.S.A.” This catalog lists the office and foundry’s location as 510 to 618 S. Front St., Quincy, Illinois, with branches in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and St. Paul, Minnesota.
However, there were numerous stove manufacturing plants in Quincy and up and down the river. Some were making the same claim as seen in the1900s advertisement by competitor Comstock-Castle Stove Manufacturing to be “The World’s Largest Sellers” of stoves. Comstock Castle is able to boast longevity over its competitors as it is still in business today.
Stove manufacturing companies in addition to Comstock Castle and Excelsior Stoves included the Channon-Emery Stove Co., Gem City Foundry Co., Thomas White, Bonnett & Duffy, Quincy Stove Manufacturing, and Phoenix Stove Works.
It was common for stove manufactures to use a variety of advertising tools such as the Excelsior Stove & Mfg. Co. Cookbook. The forward to the book began with this statement:
“Service is the ideal around which American business builds itself today. In this, service to the ultimate consumer is the common ground of both merchant and manufacturer: To render real practical service and to aid in the distribution of a high quality product, of something greater than full value at whatever price, is the thought which inspires us in the preparation of this booklet”.
There is a certain romance and warmth in reflecting on early life of the generations before us who experienced gathering around the radiant warmth of the kitchen stove or the fire of the early parlor heater. Families in the late 1800s and early 1900s wanted stoves to be both functional and decorative. Much can be learned about the value they placed in craftsmanship and the pride they took in creating works of art out of cast iron and enamel. And – beautiful as they are, stoves more recently have become objects of art to collectors who also value the detail, art and history of their antique treasures.
Carthage Republican Newspaper. Stoves. (Holmes Stove Advertisement publications 1858).
Comstock-Castle Stoves Manufacturing. 1919 Catalogue #73. (Cited by J. Hall. Stoves & Stories), 2009.
Daugherty, Michael K. The Historical Development of Science, Technology, and Invention in Illinois History. Illinois Periodicals. Northern Illinois University Libraries, 2009.
Excelsior Stove & MFG. Co. Catalogue. Largest Stove Plant in the West -Home of National Stoves & Ranges, 1908-1909. Quincy, IL.
Gregg, Thomas. “Physical Features, Geology and Natural Productions.” History of Hancock County, Illinois, 200. Chicago: P. Chas. C. Chapman & Co. 1880.
Keokuk City Directory (Advertisement). Comstock & Bros. Stoves, Tin Plate, Sheet Iron, Copper and Zinc.1856 – 1857.
“The Oldest Stove in America,” Nauvoo Independent Newspaper, 1874.