19th Century Cookstoves

1820 step stoveAdvances in the manufacture of cast iron made possible the invention of the cook stove in 1820, the first known labor-saving device for women. Small by later standards, this stove put the cooking surface at waist height for the first time, eliminating the need for precarious stooping and bending—while lifting and moving heavy pots—inside an open-hearth fire. One popular model from 1820 – 1860 was the step-top design pictured here, looking somewhat like a tiered cake on legs. Some California-bound pioneers loaded these in their covered wagons, only to abandon them along the trail when their weight proved exhausting to draft animals. After the 1848 gold discovery and subsequent rush for riches, these cookstoves were shipped around Cape Horn, arriving in San Francisco as early as December 1849. Quite likely they were very expensive, as was everything else imported from “the states” that year.


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