The Anatomy of the Hower House Museum’s Cast Iron Stove

by Rachel Roberts

The evolution of cooking and kitchen appliances is one of the most staggering timelines of invention and technology over the last thousand years. From roasting over an outdoor fire, to bubbling a stew in an indoor fireplace, to shoveling coal or wood into a cast iron stove, to turning a knob on a gas or electric range, to popping something in a microwave; the ever-changing “kitchen” has a unique place in American history. 

The Hower House Museum on the campus of the University of Akron is home to a stately Grand Climax cast iron wood-burning stove. It was built by Akron stove company Taplin-Rice-Clerkin around 1910. By 1922, the Taplin-Rice-Clerkin Company was also constructing oat cutters and hullers. This could suggest that the Hower family, who were one of the founding members of the Quaker Oats Company, influenced the direction of their company. 

Tapile-Rice Clerkin Advertisement, from “Industrial Development and Manufacturer’s Record,” Volume 82, Nov. 9, 1922, pg. 4.
Temperature Gauge from the Hower House oven.

The stove is roughly three feet wide, three feet deep, and five and a half feet tall. Because it is mainly constructed from cast iron and other decorative metals, it weighs around five hundred pounds. It was built for life! 

Let’s take a trip back in time and examine this 1910 stove, its features, and how it works. The Hower House Museum’s Director Linda Bussey was kind enough to offer a tour; additional detail information on the stove’s function comes from Real World Homesteading.

The anatomy of a 1910 cast iron stove: 

1. Stove pipe. The stove pipe ran from the oven, through the wall, and to the outside of the house. The smoke from the burning wood or coal would billow out of the kitchen through this ventilation system. However, smoke would still escape through the seams, oven door, and especially if the stove pipe damper was shut. One could imagine how much cleaning the kitchen would need from soot alone. 

2.  Warming oven. After baking bread or other food that would quickly cool, they would shift the item from oven to this area, to be sure it was warm for serving. According to Linda Bussey, this feature was somewhat luxurious, a costly addition. It was not typical in an ordinary Akron home. 

3. Draft Regulators. The bottom draft regulator opens to force air into the fire and grow flame, making the oven hotter. The top draft regulator acts as a foil to the bottom regulator. When opened it redirects the draft and slows the fervor of the fire.

4. Firebox. The firebox would be filled with wood or coal, but the Howers used primarily wood. The wood was chopped into small pieces to feed the fire a bit at a time. This helped regulate the temperature. 

5. Ashpit. Ash falls through a grate at the bottom of the firebox and into a large removeable ashpit. This probably needed to be emptied every day.

6. Oven. The oven had two racks for baking and roasting. The thermometer gauge is on the front of the oven door. This was an important functional piece as the oven could get too hot or cold depending on the vigor of the fire.

7. Ash Bucket. After the ashes cool in the ashpit, they are dumped into the ash bucket with handle and would be removed from the kitchen.

8. Burner Lid and Lid Lifter. Because the burner is made of cast iron, it is too hot to handle with a potholder. The lid lifter is made of metal and could remove the burner lid to allow more heat for frying or boiling.

9. Iron. Why let that heat go to waste? Warming an iron on the hot oven ensured a crisp and professional shirt or coat in the morning or before an evening dinner party. 

Cast iron ovens got very hot and could be a danger to children. A cook, always a woman at the turn of the century, would wear long sleeves to avoid burns. Wealthy families, like the Howers, would hire a cook to run the kitchen as wives of prominent businessmen were expected to entertain guests. However, it was well-known that Blanche Hower loved her cast iron stove, as did her daughter Grace who said the wood-burning oven made everything taste better. 

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