If you’ve been enjoying the warmth, cosiness and financial benefits of a woodburner, you might be wondering which genius bestowed all of those things upon you: who invented the wood-burning stove?
In this article we are going to delve into the history of the wood-burning stove to find out who invented the woodburner.
As with many inventions, there is some debate as to who actually got their first. With people in different parts of the world working independently to find better ways of heating their homes and cooking. The result was several different interpretations of ways in which traditional fireplaces could be improved through the use of something akin to what we know as a woodburner.
Saugus Iron Works was founded in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1642. Its foundry, which was around 10 miles outside Boston and is now a National Historical Site, is credited as the first to construct a box made of cast iron plates inside which wood could be burned.
Almost a century later, a Belgian architect called Francois de Cuvilliés introduced an enclosed box that could be used to heat food. He called it the Castrol stove, but it would become better known as the stew stove. Although de Cuvilliés’ design did incorporate an enclosed metal box, the metal was clad around a masonry construction.
That leads us to the man who is most commonly considered to be the inventor of the wood-burning stove: Benjamin Franklin.
You might expect inventing the woodburner to be quite a nice claim to fame, but Franklin also happens to have been one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, which trumps the humble logburner for most history buffs! Along with the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, Franklin is considered to have been one of the key figures in securing US independence and creating the country we know today.
A hugely interesting figure, Franklin was a polymath who excelled in being an author, politician, scientist, inventor and many other things. His inventions included the lightining rod, bifocals and his Franklin stove.
The Franklin Stove
The Franklin stove was invented by Franklin in 1741. It was a metal-lined fireplace that featured a hollow baffle that sought to retain more heat in the room. The stove itself was a box of cast iron panels connected together by iron screws through connections that were made during the casting process. It stood around 76cm (30 inches) tall.
Unlike modern appliances, it had an open front (excluding a decorative panel at the top). It also included an ‘inverted siphon’, which was supposed to draw hot fumes around the baffle. Its inclusion was inspired by its use by Franz Kessler, an inventor, writer and scholar who lived in modern day Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries. Kessler has written a book on stoves. But Franklin’s U-shaped duct that was supposed to extract heat from the gases as they travelled through the duct and out of the chimney did not work as planned. Since the gases had to pass through a cold flue set in the floor before entering the chimney, the gases cooled significantly and resulted in a poor draw.
The Franklin Stove did not enjoy good sales, but it did influence many of the woodburners that followed it and was much safer than the fireplaces that went before. His box-shaped design remains the preferred shape for the overwhelming majority of wood-burning stoves.
David Rittenhouse – astronomer, inventor and the first director of the US Mint – tackled some of the problems in Franklin’s design. His stove was more commercially successful than Franklin’s, and therefore arguably the first economically viable woodburner, but is not as well remembered.
Particularly in the USA, the Franklin stove name stuck and is often applied to stoves that have moved on significantly from the original design. That said. enough of the design – not least the box shape and use of a baffle – remains intact to say that Benjamin Franklin is the inventor of the wood-burning stove as we know it today.