The Evolution of Stoves

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man at the stove top vintage

I absolutely love kitchen stoves. Whether it’s a tiny stove tucked into a miniscule apartment or a huge eight-burner stove fit for a luxurious mansion, stoves always draw me like a bee to flowers. It isn’t all about the design or the color or the shape — though of course it is about those things, too. What really gets my attention is the way a stove makes me feel.

Centerpiece of the house

Stoves are the centerpiece of the center of the house, the place where good food comes from, the beginning of every good get-together or reunion or celebration. How many times have I stood at the stove, stirring something good for my family? How many times have I stood around and watched someone else do the same thing, a glass of wine in my hand, talking about the events of the day? How many times have I joined the chorus of growling tummies when the oven door was opened and all those good scents came rolling out?

A stove defines so many good moments; it is any wonder that I look at each one with a sense of promise? I already know what good things can come out of that door, or out of whatever is simmering away in those pans.

A history of the kitchen stove

The first foods to be cooked got that way over an open flame, likely out on an open prairie. Things began to evolve with open hearths, at first kept outside the home, and eventually what came to be known as the kitchen grew up around these rudimentary fireplaces. Then a man named Benjamin Thompson — otherwise known as Count Rumford — figured out how to create a box that contained the fire, with a flat top that allowed pots and pans to be lowered into it.

Rudimentary though they were, these stoves were the beginning of a revolution in cooking, one that soon gave way to cast iron stoves with even more bells and whistles, as well as the cast iron cooking pans that we still use today. These were initially mean to burn wood, but it wasn’t long before coal became the fuel of choice.

Now you’re cookin’ with gas!

When gas became a more popular cooking fuel, stoves changed as well. Now they didn’t have to be big and bulky in order to handle coal or wood, and they didn’t even need a chimney! These changes meant that the stoves were lighter, more compact, and thus freed up serious room in the typical kitchen. Besides that, these new gas ranges didn’t get nearly as hot on the outside as earlier stoves did, and thus there was less of a fire or injury hazard.

gas stove and tea kettle

Now that the stoves were smaller and lighter, what did consumers want? Something bigger, of course. They got it with things like a five-burner, two-oven model that took up almost as much space as those old cast iron stoves did. And now there were regulators that controlled the heat, making cooking more of an exact art than a matter of guesswork. For those purists who were swayed by the newfangled gas stoves but missed their wood or coal, there were even combination models.

Going electric

And then came along the electric stove. These were introduced right about the time that the United States was in a frenzy to create larger electrical grids and find a good reason to use them. At the same time, the styles were changing, offering stoves that looked like furniture — most often like a chest of drawers — and later, built-in models that made good use of the trend toward kitchen cabinets.

Today, stoves can be found in any combination, any variety, any color — you name it, you’ve got it. You can choose a range that is separate from the oven, built into the cabinets, loaded up with burners and grills. You can choose a bank of stoves built into the cabinets, including sections that keep foods warm, as well as ovens that use various fuels or methods of cooking.

modern kitchen modern stove natural light

You can even go back in time and choose a reproduction that looks just like an original cast iron or wood stove — and you might even be able to find one that uses the original fuels, too.

What’s for dinner?

No matter what stove graces your kitchen, one thing is certain: It can easily become a haven that everyone gravitates toward, their tummies rumbling and their senses heightened, wondering what amazing things will be produced for dinner this time.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.