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Cast Iron Stoves of the 1800s

Mary Thomsen

The 1800s saw great growth in the production and use of cast iron stoves, used for both heating and cooking. The stoves evolved throughout the 19th century, but they still came with their share of problems, from fire danger to air pollution. Some characteristics of those antique stoves carry on in today’s wood-burning stoves and heaters.

Evolution of Stoves

Cast iron heating and cooking stoves of the 1800s are collectible today.

Before the 18th century, people created simple, wood-burning stoves to boost the heat emanating from their fireplaces by making a frame around the front to bring more heat into the room. By around 1750, people began closing in those stoves to improve the heat transfer, leading to Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the first cast iron firebox with an open front, a design still known as the Franklin stove today. Those simple designs continued throughout the 1800s and well into the 1900s before anyone made significant changes in cast-iron, wood-burning heating stoves.

1800s Stoves

In the first quarter of the 19th century, more advanced cast iron cook stoves began appearing and sales of such ranges and stoves took off. The stoves provided both heat and a flat surface to do cooking in a time when few homes contained fireplaces. These stoves -- known as box stoves -- typically had six cooking plates, having evolved from the heavier, less finely cast models of the previous century.

Using the Stoves

Housewives of the 1800s spent much of their time and labor keeping the cast iron stoves going for cooking and heating the home. The stoves typically burned coal or wood, which required significant attention throughout the day to maintain the fire, remove old ashes and adjust the dampers and flue. The woman of the house normally bore the responsibility of watching the fire to ensure it did not burn out, a task that required at least four hours of work each day. Women also needed to use the cumbersome stoves to cook the family’s meals, all from fresh, completely unprocessed meats, produce and other foods.

Problems and Dangers

Old-style cook and heating stoves burned a large amount of wood and released heavy pollution and smoke into the air. Using them also presented the constant danger of a chimney or house fire. Compared to more modern cooking ranges, the stoves commonly in use in the 1800s were cumbersome and inconvenient to use. Today, the stoves that created so much work in the 1800s are considered collectible antiques.