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Prairie Stoves

The world is full of great ideas, but sometimes the best are ignored. One example involves the case of an extraordinarily efficient stove that was widely introduced by Germans from Russia, beginning in the 1870s. English-language descriptions appeared in many popular publications, including this one from the Daily State Journal in 1874:

"Mr. Frost, agent for the B. & M. R. R. has recently returned from the vicinity of Sutton, the home of the Mennonites, [and] gives us a description of a very novel oven which is in general use. It is not only used for heating purposes, but for cooking, &c, &c. It is built of brick-much in the shape of a large ice box; the height is generally from six to eight feet, in width three feet, and in length about six feet. The furnace is the full length of the oven and arched with brick, the doors and grate being iron. Mr. Frost, who is a very reliable man, informs us that he has spent several days in many of their houses, and knows that from ten to twelve pounds of straw is sufficient to keep warm throughout the day, three good sized rooms.

"He also considers the oven much better than the stoves now in use, for the reasons that they furnish more heat with less fuel; are less expensive, and the cost of fuel is, comparatively speaking, nothing: while for cooking purposes, its every jot as good as a first class [iron] cooking stove. [They] are being built as fast as the necessary material . . . can be procured. The cost of this novel heating and cooking apparatus is from $15 to $40.

"We presume that this apparatus is an importation from the old country. It must be remembered that the Mennonites hail from a country that, in several particulars, resembles Nebraska, where the prairies or 'steppes' are vast, wood unattainable and coal mines distant. From this may be learned many useful lessons, gathered from the experience of two or three hundred years of residence in a grain producing, timberless country."

We can only guess why no interest developed in the stove among native-born Americans, in spite of its superior economy and efficiency.

(June 1996)

 

 

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