Detroit: Stove capital of the world

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Before it became the Motor City, Detroit was known nationwide as the “Stove Capital of the World.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, no fewer than five major companies (The Michigan Stove Company, The Detroit Stove Works, The Peninsular Stove Company, The Art Stove Company, and Detroit Vapor Stove) manufactured models that could burn wood, coal, coke and, later, gas.

Advertising pamphlets in the culinary collection at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library document the products and give a picture of the home kitchen a hundred years ago.

First stove company. Jan Longone, curator of American culinary history at the library, notes that brothers Jeremiah and James Dwyer started the city’s first stove factory at the foot of Mount Elliott, on the city’s near east side, in 1860.

The popularity of their product soon attracted other manufacturers to the area.

Later the Detroit Stove Works, which claimed to be “the largest stove plant in the world,” merged with the Michigan Stove Company, the company responsible for building the “World’s Largest Stove.”

World’s largest stove.

This giant facsimile of the “Garland” kitchen range was the brainchild of Michigan’s Stove’s vice president, George H. Barbour, who served on the national board of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. “It was carved in oak and painted to look like metal,” Longone said. “It measured 25 feet high, 30 feet long, and 20 feet wide, and weighed 15 tons.

“During the exposition, it occupied the place of honor on a platform 20 feet above an exhibition of actual kitchen stoves.”

After the exposition the stove came home to Michigan, and today it is still a Detroit landmark, on display at the Michigan State Fairgrounds.

One of Longone’s favorite pieces from the collection is a Detroit Stove Works pamphlet, Cooking with Gas, which illustrates about a dozen different stoves and ranges, with explanations of their use and praise for the merits of each.

Merits of gas stoves. It also contains a wide variety of recipes, many from famed cooks of the era. Its opening chapter, “What Gas Has Done For Womankind,” opens with the sentence, “Words cannot adequately describe what gas fuel has done for womankind.”

“Think about it,” Longone said. “Women who were used to having to haul in heavy loads of wood or coal to feed their stoves – and haul away the ash – must have found gas an extraordinary luxury.”

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