The Evolution of the Kitchen Range

For centuries, cooking arrangements in Europe were based on the system developed by the Romans and diffused throughout Europe in the wake of the military conquests. At its simplest, this involved a raised brick hearth to hold an open fire, set within a wide chimney base. As smoke and hot air rose, they were drawn up the chimney. Different methods of cooking could be achieved by adding devices such as spits, supports for pots and pans, and brick-oven compartments. Cooking on an open fire was slow and inefficient because a lot of heat was absorbed by the chimney walls and by the air in the room. In the mid-eighteenth century, the American statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin invented a ventilated cast-iron wood-burning stove, through which the hot combustion gases circulated before escaping.

This idea for concentrating the heat source and retaining heat was developed further by Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford, in the 1790s. Rumford was born in the United States, in Massachusetts, but his early career as a spy for the British led to his forced departure to Europe. During his employment by the elector of Bavaria in various senior ministerial roles, he developed the solid-fuel range for use in a variety of large-scale catering contexts, including workhouses, army canteens, and hospitals. Perhaps the most innovative feature of Rumford’s ranges was the sunken chambers for pans in the range top. The pans were heated by the combustion gases rising up the surrounding flues. Although Rumford produced scaled-down versions of his basic range design, it was another American inventor, Philo Penfield Stewart, who developed the prototype of the nineteenth-century household range. Stewart patented his first range design in 1834 and later moved from Ohio to Troy, New York, where he established himself as a manufacturer.