News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 27, 2012

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Radiant heating — a hot idea

Patrick Newsham
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This week’s Historical Treasure is a bit out of season, but a wood stove will help drive away the morning chill and you can make breakfast on it. The Vigo County Historical Museum’s cast iron stove is located on the second floor in the school room. It is either a coal or wood burning stove and has a small cooking surface on top of it.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, wood burning stoves made of cast iron were an improvement over earlier fireplaces. They addressed the issues of the occasional smoky room and inefficient heating, not to mention the danger of fire caused by an errant spark. By the early 1700s various forms of cast iron stoves were being manufactured. Known as six-plate stoves, these were constructed of metal plates that were bolted together to form a box and had a pipe at the top to allow the smoke to escape.

In 1741 Benjamin Franklin invented the “Pennsylvania Fireplace,” a metal-lined fireplace with improved airflow. His design ensured that more of the fuel, including that in the smoke, was burned, and that more heat was transferred from the stove to the room. The warm air in the room was unable to escape through the chimney as it would in a traditional fireplace, which was a great improvement in efficiency. Franklin refused to patent his new invention, which allowed others to use it and make improvements upon it.

Later designs of wood stoves in the 18th and 19th centuries were commonly known as box stoves. These stoves were lighter and more finely cast due to improved casting techniques but were similar in design to the earlier six-plate stoves. Box stoves were not placed in a fireplace but were situated in the room, which helped to heat the room more efficiently.

The wood stove on display at the Vigo County Historical Museum is a model from the 19th century. A Ruby No. 11 model, patent dated June 21, 1859, it was cast in Cincinnati by W. Rebor & Co. This exact stove might have been cast at a later date, but it made use of the design from this time. While stove design has evolved over the past 150 years, the method of radiant heating remains an effective means of heating that has been made more efficient over time.