Stoves and fireplaces

The most popular heating devices were fireplaces, in various sizes and forms. In castles and palaces they were initially annexed to the wall on the outside in specially designed recesses. This is where fire was started and the chimney, often going up a number of storeys, heated the wall of the building. With time fireplaces were built inside rooms and they took on the shape we are familiar with nowadays.


By the fireplace


In Poland the oldest fireplaces dating back to the 13th century have been preserved in Legnica and in the district of Ostrów Tumski in Wrocław. A recess was left in the wall where fire was lit directly on the floor and it was covered by a roof to protect the interior from smoke. In the following centuries the roof over the fire was lowered and with time it was transformed into a hood that is still in use to this day. Side walls protruding from the wall face supported the roof and were the predecessors of ornamental portals. In the early Middle Ages their form was crude and ornamentation unsophisticated. Only at the turn of the century were ornamentations placed not only on the supports but also partially on the hood.



Fireplaces heating large high rooms had to be of sufficient size. Sometimes a number of fireplaces were built in a single room. They consumed vast amounts of wood and a considerable portion of heat from the furnace escaped into the chimney. Also, much smaller fireplaces were built to heat small living quarters, bedrooms or rooms for the elderly or the sick. They took on different forms: they were either erected as portals in the wall face or located in the corner of the room suspended overa furnace and pear shaped. 


Gothic fireplaces were additionally equipped and ornamented with cast iron plates placed on the rear wall. These plates performed two functions: they protected the wall against high temperature and accumulated heat transferred to the room when the fire was extinguished. In some European countries (southern Germany, England, and France) hot cast iron plates were also used to heat rooms neighbouring the fireplaces. Warm air was supplied through ducts in walls on which the plates were mounted. The outlet of the duct in the neighbouring room was covered by a small ornamental door. Early Gothic cast iron plates, similar to the whole portals, were modestly ornamented: most often they had delicate reliefs and in subsequent centuries the ornaments were made richer by adding scenes from the Bible, mythology or inscriptions, e.g. maxims.



Brick masonry heaters


In Central and Eastern Europe, apart from single heaters, clusters of structurally connected fire and smoke devices were built. They were composed of a kitchen range, heaters and bread ovens, a chimney and a smoker. Their role was not limited to heating; they also performed cooking, utility, storage and even … sleeping functions. Initially made from clay, afterwards built from brick, covered with plaster and whitewashed, they were normally cuboid shaped and were rarely cylindrical. Their modest ornaments were usually limited to profiled cornices and recesses which also performed a utilitarian role. Such a specific and long-existing Slavic creation was commonly in use until the mid-19th century; and in some regions even longer – until the early or even mid-20th century. Of course single stoves, used for heating only, made from clay – and afterwards replaced with brick and whitewashed – were also in common use. These could be found primarily in rural cottages but also in some residences in rooms not used for reception. Such stoves, and likewise the “clusters”, survived, in particular in the east of Poland, until the 20th century. Sometimes in a house heated by manufactured ceramic masonry stoves simple brick masonry stoves could still be found in secondary rooms. On the other hand, in western Poland the German influence and more advanced heating culture started displacing such structures from rural cottages as early as the 19th century.



Brick masonry stoves could not succeed in competing with tiled (ceramic) masonry stoves which became increasingly popular in the second half of the 19th century in rural households (well-to-do households already had them at the end of the 18th century). A contributing factor was the wide-scale introduction of hard coal as fuel for heating. The new type of fuel necessitated modifications in the design of stoves. In addition, at the turn of the 19th century resilient German factories “flooded” the territories under Prussian rule and also other regions with tile-clad stoves. At the same time, also, local tile-making works were established.


Today clay and brick fire equipment, both combining the kitchen and heating functions and those used for heating only, can be seen mostly in museums, ethnographic sites. In rural cottages few such stoves have been preserved – single brick and whitewashed heaters can be sporadically found in some residences. On the other hand, in the east of Poland (in the region of Podlasie), a specific type of equipment related to the fire culture survived and even developed. Researchers find it to be a unique specimen globally and call it the “Podlasie stove”. This monolithic complex capable of heating a number of rooms is composed of a kitchen range, heating stoves and bread ovens. It weighs up to 10 tonnes and covers an area of up to 40 square metres.



Tiled masonry heaters


Domed stoves gave rise to other, more economical forms of stoves in which the construction materials were jolleyed ceramic dishes (shallow – bowl-type and deep – pot-type). The length of the flange of pot-type tiles was equal to or larger than the diameter of the opening, and in bowl-type tiles, which were flatter – it was smaller. The Polish term kafel (tile) derived from the word kachel used in Central and Upper Lusatia to mean a jolleyed clay vessel. Initially round vessels before baking were flattened on four sides and the resulting tiles were arranged bottom down in a clay wall of a domed stove. Another stage of stove development was the exclusive use of open pottery tiles for building. Single tiles were put into the clay dome, which expanded the heating surface of the stove. Thus, consuming less wood better results were achieved, and at the same time the amount of smoke inside the room was reduced. Stoves were built on a brick foundation in the form of a one- or two-box cylindrical structure. Tiles were arranged in rows and the fire channel passed through the central, internal part of the stove, which made it a cylindrical structure slimming towards the top. Tiles in the lower, fatter part of the stove were more elongated, pot-like and the higher the clay wall became thinner – this is where short, bowl-type tiles were mounted. 


Hot pot-type tiles gradually released heat accumulated in the stove wall, which contributed to increased fuel savings, because the hot stove could maintain the accumulated heat for a longer period of time. The tiles had very modest ornamentation: only at the bottom (roses) and on the edges but most often there were no decorative elements at all. Stoves of this type survived in an unchanged shape from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century.


In the mid-15th century the first flat tiles were produced, so a new type of stove was invented which was developed and transformed until the mid-20th century.



Where do they come from?



Regardless of this fact, tiled stoves are believed to have originated in the Alps, and in particular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where they were known as early as the 11th century. From this territory they spread to other regions of Europe reaching countries in which houses needed to be heated inside due to severe weather conditions. Tiled stoves were popularised in what is now Poland from the 14th century and in Silesia they were known as early as the second half of the 13th century. Stove building skills were most likely due to German colonists who settled in cities founded under German law. Initially, one- or two-box cylindrical or conical stoves were built from tiles referred to as bowl and pot tiles (depending on their depth). The tiles were jolleyed and as their name suggests their shapes resembled pottery. They were ornamented only at the bottom part and on the edges and often lacked any decorative elements. The finish was green, brown or yellow glazing but unglazed tiles were also used. The respective tiles were assembled in the body of the stove with openings facing outside and the gaps between them were filled with clay.


This type of stove remained practically unchanged from the Middle Ages to the 18th or even 19th century. Initially it was used to heat castle chambers. Intially it was used to heat castle chambers. Interestingly, over centuries neither the from of tiles nor the shape of stoves changed conssiderably. Apart from an impressive appearance they had many practical advantages: they were quickly heated and due to the expanded heating surface they gave off heat longer. In addition, they were easily accessible as they were produced by local potters, who were also stove masons.



New tiles, new options


In the 15th century stoves were built from plate tiles made in special mould matrices (negative ceramic moulds). Such moulds were used to produce identical elements in a short time, which improved the process of production and resulted in an increased availability of stoves and expanded circle of buyers. The new type of tiles necessitated a change in the shape of the stove. The stove was now composed of a few boxes (usually two but sometimes more). The lower box was normally rectangular or square and the upper was rectangular, square, circular or polygonal. 


With time the body of the stove was split horizontally by cornices and vertically by pilasters, columns or herms, and the resulting planes were richly decorated with reliefs or paintings. In addition the stove was crowned by pinnacles, thus becoming a small work of architecture modelled on castles of the period. 


The walls of a stove made of plate tiles were thinner compared to stoves built from pottery tiles. This necessitated reinforcement in the form of a brick shell, which in turn made it possible to increase the dimensions of the stove and improved its accumulation ability. The new type of stove provided many options for ornamentation since plate tiles were an ideal carrier for art. The ornaments of Gothic tiles coated with coloured glaze were the relief motifs of architecture, plants, figures, heraldry, and representations of religious or chivalric scenes. Despite the fact that museum resources contain numerous Gothic plate tiles, in Poland complete stoves dating back to that time have not been preserved. Also, not many reliable reconstructions are available (although such attempts are undertaken based on archaeological finds). An interesting example of a Late Gothic stove from the turn of the 15th century is exhibited in the Museum in Racibórz where a stove from the Piast castle of Racibórz was reconstructed. Its monumental body composed of green glazed tiles (plates in the cuboid lower box and semi-cylindrical pot tiles in the polygonal top part) could be a very simplified version of a Gothic tiled stove masterpiece of 1501 still embellishing chambers of the castle in Salzburg.


Pottery tiles were still in use for a long time and in Gothic stoves often both plate and bowl types were used. This is also evident in the reconstruction of a Gothic stove at the Opalinski Family Castle Museum in Sieraków, Greater Poland.


Gothic-type stoves also survived throughout the Renaissance. Renaissance tiles were ornamented with ancient, religious, heraldic, architectural, plant (especially stylized roses) or figural motifs (courtly and chivalric scenes, portraits of rulers). 


Renaissance tiles were characterised by coloured glazing: green, blue, white, yellow and brown. The most beautiful example of a Renaissance stove, unique not only in Europe, is a nearly 11-metre tall, five-storey stove at the Artus Court in Gdańsk, a masterpiece by Georg Stelzner built in 1545-1546, which has been deservedly called the king of stoves for at least one hundred years. It is covered with 520 tiles (of which 437 are genuine) richly ornamented with religious, political and symbolic content. Three lower levels depict different rulers of Europe of that time, both Catholics and Protestants. Two higher levels are clad with larger tiles depicting allegories, grotesques and personifications of virtues, crowned by the coats of arms of the Republic of Poland, Royal Prussia and Gdańsk. In 1943 the stove was dismantled by the conservation officers of Gdańsk and after long restoration works lasting more than fifty years, in 1995, it was reconstructed in the original place.



Following trends in fashion


In the 17th century, in the Baroque period, the body of the stove remained unchanged. However, continuation ornaments of plant or oriental Moorish character were predominant and tiles, in contrast to the previous period, did not form a separate whole but were a part of the overall composition. Glazing colours were limited to green and white and blue (with yellow accents). Superb examples of reconstructed stoves from the late 16th century and the first half of the 17th century can be seen in the Royal Castle in Warsaw, in the castle in Tykocin, in Kamienica Brzykowska – a division of the National Museum of Przemyśl Region and Kamienica Hipolitowska – a division of the Museum of the City of Kraków.


The museum collections comprise large tiles, mostly with green glazing and decorations dominated by religious or architectural motifs. These are remnants of stoves we know only from the 19th century carbon copies which have survived in some residences giving us a sense of what the originals looked like (and these can still be found in museums in Germany and Austria). For example, there are copies of Renaissance structures in the palaces in Krokowa near Puck and in Warcino near Słupsk (the seat of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck), built in the 1880s in the factory of C.W. Fleischmann in Nuremberg. Particularly interesting are small stoves (in both palaces) modelled on a Renaissance prototype from the chambers of the empress in the castle in Nuremberg.


In the 17th century, and in particular in the 18th century, Baroque stoves produced in Pomerania, informally referred to as Gdansk stoves (although they were manufactured in different cities in Royal Prussia, besides Gdańsk also in Toruń, Elbląg and Malbork), became popular in the Polish State. Already one hundred years ago three separate types were identified depending on the place of production, namely: Gdańsk, Elbląg or Toruń stoves. The settlement of Mennonites (Dutch Protestant settlers), economic and business relations with the Netherlands, fashionable Dutch faience pottery – all of this had an influence on the characteristic style of stoves built in those cities. The stoves were brought to residences throughout the Polish State (they were also exported to Russia and Germany), and copied in local workshops in various parts of Poland. Gothic and Renaissance stoves made reference to the architecture of buildings while Baroque stoves were modelled on interior design elements, e.g. furniture, such as: cabinets, writing desks, and glass-fronted cabinets.


Pomeranian stoves were composed of two or three levels with cuboid boxes founded on bases carved in wood with a richly profiled top crowned with a date plate. Upper levels often had vaulted pass-through recesses or niches only. It is characteristic that the furnace was not accessible from the heated room since the stoves were fired from the entryway or from a special compartment. Tiles had white glazing and the paint layer was cobalt blue, copper green or manganese violet. Decorations were made using special stencils (so-called sponses) and the patterns derived mainly from German drawings. They mostly depicted scenes from the Bible, genre and allegoric works and landscapes enclosed with protuberant relief or painted frames (or with no frames at all). Baroque stoves manufactured in Pomerania were diversified, e.g. Gdańsk stoves differed from Elbląg stoves in that the first type had a profiled frame, a type of cartouche enclosing the painting decoration.


A few stoves of this type were preserved, mainly in residences and church premises (e.g. in the palace in Krokowa near Puck and in the collegiate church in Dobre Miasto in the region of Warmia). They can be primarily found in museums, e.g. in the Nicholas Copernicus Museum in Frombork (where a unique set of Baroque stoves survived), National Museum in Gdańsk, Castle Museum in Malbork, District Museum in Toruń. In the 19th and 20th century the by then historic original Baroque stoves were reproduced mainly as furnishing for residences. Some works specialised in their production. An example was a factory attached to the palace in Nieborów in the late 19th century. Gdańsk-type stoves produced there can be seen in the Museum in Nieborów. In the first half of the 20th century such stoves were produced by the Imperial Factory in Kadyny at the Vistula Lagoon (today the stoves are exhibited in the Castle Museum in Malbork and the Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg) and by the Walter Wendel Stove Factory in Malbork and Braniewo (a stove in the Museum of Warmia and Masuria in Olsztyn). 



Antique style


At the turn of the 18th century stoves corresponding to a style characteristic of Classicism appeared. Also assembled from large tile segments they were shaped as obelisks, cylinders, or columns (often with a fluted surface) with a rich crown (e.g. vase-shaped). The finish was mainly white glazing, often gilding, and ornamental elements were relief motifs deriving from Antiquity: busts, medaillons, floral motifs, etc. Such stoves were often imported from German factories in Berlin and Velten near Berlin (which formed a very resilient ceramic production centre in subsequent years) and from Austrian factories, e.g. Vienna and Steyr. Stoves of this type are exhibited in museums arranged in former residences, e.g. the Museum of Teschen Silesia in Cieszyn, the Sułkowski Family Castle. Stoves produced in Berlin after 1825 represented the ideals of Classicism to such an extent that these days the term Berlin stoves and tiles is still in use. Such stoves in Germany and later in Europe were propagated due to the contribution of an outstanding architect and art theorist, Karl Friedrich Schinkel. He was a member of a special ministerial commission supporting crafts and production of utility objects (including stoves) meeting the then practical and aesthetic needs. As a result of the commission”s activities, in 1821-1837 a series of booklets entitled Utility models for manufacturers and craftsmen was issued.


Berlin stoves were characterised by a simple, normally two-box body of white tiles. The ornamentation was large decorative elements: panneaux, medaillons, openwork tiles, niches, and even solid figures. The coping presented ancient scenes, mythical figures, and acanthus, grotesque or arabesque motifs. However, more modest stoves, only with a decorative frieze and coping, were the most numerous. Stoves from Berlin were particularly the favourites of owners of palaces and manors in which they were present until the late 19th century and even until the beginning of the 20th century. An example is a superb complex of stoves in the new bishop”s palace in Frombork, composed of ten white stoves dating back to 1844-1845, manufactured by a renowned factory from Berlin, C.T. Feilner, whose founder was deemed the father of the Berlin ceramic stoves. 


These were projects made according to Feilner”s model. The authors of the projects were distinguished German architects, including Karl Schinkel who worked with Feilner. Similar stoves can be found in some residences in Germany, e.g. the palace in Charlottenburg. In Poland a set of notable works of the above-mentioned company survived in the Castle Museum in Pszczyna.



The hegemony of Berlin


The closer to our times the more restrained the knowledge about stoves. Insofar as their history until the end of the 18th century was recorded in many publications, there were not many mentions of stoves in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. It is worth adding that at that time various types of stoves appeared on a scale that was unprecedented in past ages. Old, historic models were reproduced over and over again. For some time folk stoves were still used before they were completely displaced by factory-manufactured ones. White Berlin stoves ruled overall. Also, traditional stoves were produced from plate tiles with coloured glazing and relief ornaments subject to changing trends in fashion. At that time a new type of stove made of white tiles and large polychromed elements appeared. It was popularised in the final quarter of the 19th century for about fifty years (until World War I). It derives from white Berlin stoves. The body of the stove was composed of two boxes built of smooth tiles with white glaze and large non-glazed tile dividers – both horizontal and vertical – which were usually polychromed. 


Depending on the number of large tile segments used the stoves are classified into several varieties: from the simplest one with a decorative crown only to a more developed one with box framing, culminating with an even richer version – with a deco-rative tile in the front part of the upper box. Sometimes the whole top part was clad with tiles depicting a rural scene or small richly ornamented tiles. The style of the stove was determined by ornaments on large elements, making reference to patterns characteristic of Classicism, Baroque, Renaissance and Art Noveau. When a stove was assembled, often no attention was paid to the uniformity of tile styles which were selected according to financial ability or personal taste. Thus, numerous stoves were of an eclectic nature combining, e.g. Neo-Baroque “framing” tiles with a Neo-Renaissance central tile and coping in the Art Noveau style. Stoves from the group discussed above were the most common in rural and middle-class households but they were also present in palaces and manors. Many of them can still be found, in particular in Warmia, Masuria, Pomerania and Silesia. They are also exhibited in museums: the Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg (an exceptionally beautiful stove in the Art Noveau style), in Barczewo (the Feliks Nowowiejski Music Lounge), and in the Museum of Masovia in Płock (notable Art Noveau stoves). 


At the same time, stoves made of white tiles and large non-glazed tile elements were accompanied by stoves made of traditional plate tiles with coloured glaze and relief ornaments which were also subject to current trends in fashion.


At the end of the 19th century stoves, like other elements of interior design, made reference to historic styles, of which Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque were particularly fashionable patterns. The stoves comprised – often unusually impressive – structures designed by renowned architects. In turn, stoves made of glazed tiles in the late 19th and early 20th century were characterised by a body and set of ornaments typical of the then fashionable style of Art Noveau. Since at that time new patterns coexisted with those typical for historicism, apart from Art Noveau stoves, uniform in terms of style, there were also stoves freely combining the motifs of Art Noveau with patterns deriving from various historic styles, thus creating an eclectic compilation. Numerous examples of such structures, both eclectic and Art Noveau ones, are exhibited in museums, for example in the villa of Herbst – Księży Młyn Residence, the Film Museum in Łódź – formerly a palace of Karol Scheibler, the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław, the Museum of the History of Katowice in Katowice (exceptionally beautiful eclectic stoves).


Stoves dating back to the 1910s and 1920s have a simplified, although still multi-box body and more modest ornaments, most often in the Art Noveau style. Stoves built in the 1930s and 1940s are usually single-level structures. Sometimes they make reference to previously popular ornaments but in a more geometric form corresponding to the taste of that time manifested in Art Deco. In addition, despite being unsophisticated, they are characterised by pastel colours – gentle shades of green, brown and blue. Such stoves can still be found in many households. Museums do not exhibit them often, perhaps due to the fact that they do not look attractive.


However, some unique stoves were also made at that time to special order designed to match specific interiors. For example, a monumental stove of 1939 was designed for the building of the former youth hostel on Biskupia Górka in Gdańsk (now a crime laboratory of the Voivodeship Police Headquarters). Its decoration depicts the military history of Gdańsk in about one hundred drawings often accompanied by elaborate text. The painting of this unusual stove is the work of a famous German artist, Bruno Müller-Linow, and the tiles were produced by Helmuth Fischer”s stove factory in Lębork.



Going large scale


The development of industry, transport and business in the 19th and 20th century accelerated the spread of fashion trends and styles. Stove-making works used the same models and large factories sold their products in various parts of Europe, so stoves of similar form and similarly decorated heated buildings in Sweden, Germany, Poland and Hungary. In the European tile market large mechanized factories from Germany were of special importance (a hydraulic tile press was used for the first time in 1839 in Germany). The factories distributed their products through a well-developed network of agencies, in particular predominant in the territory under Prussian rule (Pomerania, East and West Prussia and Silesia), but they also flooded other regions. The most expansive was the ceramic complex in Velten near Berlin bringing together about forty works. The factory of Schmidt and Lehmann was especially resilient. Only a few dozen years after its establishment (in 1872) it began setting up its agencies in the east – as a result their stoves were bought from Königsberg (present day Kaliningrad) in East Prussia to Bolesławiec in Lower Silesia. Also other German works were worth noting, e.g. works from Berlin (the famous C.T. Feilner and E. Schöffel) or Meissen (E. Teichert). In turn, in the remaining territories Austrian and Russian factories were in operation.


Small means beautiful


At the same time also local tile-making works producing superb stoves proliferated. Often the quality of their products was comparable to that of large German factories. So, development of the tile-making industry, dependent on the raw material resources, was not even. Some centres such as Gdansk, once famous for producing Baroque stoves, in the 19th and 20th century were not so strong any more since the local resources of clay had been almost completely exhausted. Most local stove-making factories were established from the 1870s, among other things, based on previously existing ceramic workshops. There could have been a few hundred such factories in what is now Poland. They were mostly small works employing a few to several dozen workers. Production in smaller and larger local plants was different in terms of technology, quality of workmanship and range of products; however, designs were much like European standards. The turmoil of World War II and its consequences meant that local, often notable works, vanished without a trace. A significant number of such works were reactivated and some of them remained in operation until the 1960s or even the 1970s; however, compared to pre-war times the production level declined. For the needs of a country destroyed in the war ordinary green or brown tiles were produced. With time local works were closed and the market was dominated by simple, light or dark brown tiles sourced mostly from the factory in Skawina near Kraków.


Save them from oblivion


Nowadays most local tile-making plants no longer exist. There are some exceptions such as plants continuing their activity in the place where they were founded, e.g. the tile-making works in Stary Gronów in Pomerania (established in 1894) or the tile-making works in Zduny, Greater Poland (operating since 1858). It is also rare that the plants are owned by the same family from the times before the war, like the Grochowski Tile-Making Works in Radomsko, a family business established in 1890 and operating in its present place of business since 1932. The Tile-Making Works of Wiktor Polak in Nowy Targ date back to roughly the same time. A surprisingly small number of buildings formerly housing tile-making works survived. The ones that did survive usually were not treated as part of the national heritage and were either wrecked or transformed, like for example the reconstructed building or the Walter Wendel Stove Factory in Braniewo. Many former factory buildings throughout Poland, connected with the production of stoves, are still being degraded, for example the renowned Imperial Ceramic Factory in Kadyny at the Vistula Lagoon, the tile-making works in Strumien near Cieszyn and in Nurzec near Siemiatycze in Podlasie. There are exceptions such as the well-maintained buildings of the former stove factory in Biskupiec in the region of Warmia which until 1939 was managed by the Huhn brothers (now housing the Old Tile Works restaurant). Many historic elements have been preserved there, including (which is very rare) the company name plate on the top of the building („Ofen-Fabrik Gebr. Huhn Bischofsburg”).



Tiled stoves have protected people from cold for the past six centuries but only structures dating back to 150 years ago have been preserved in some households. Many historic stoves have survived in Warmia, Masuria, Pomerania and Silesia, but there also, as in other regions, their number is decreasing. We are not aware that stoves, although they seem commonplace and ordinary, are an important element of the cultural heritage of Poland, unique and characteristic of north-western and central-eastern Europe, often not known in other regions of the world.


Franklin stoves


From the mid-18th century the most popular and typical American household heater was a free-standing fireplace. Before it was described and constructed, its inventor, Benjamin Franklin, read related publications circulated in the Old Continent. European scholars as early as the second half of the 17th century presented innovative developments of classical fireplaces, introducing baffles forcing double circulation of fumes. In 1686 André Dalesme improved the heating capacity of the fireplace inserting baffles through which smoke and fumes passed from the bottom, giving off heat, upwards to the chimney. Dalesme called his invention a “smokeless stove”. This design was proof that fires could be used inside a room without filling the house with smoke. Franz Kessler from Germany, followed by Louis Savo and Nicolas Gauger from France, introduced successive innovations to ensure better use of the heat produced and prevent filling the heated room with smoke. However, this method was best transformed and used by Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a painter, writer and author of many scientific discoveries. In 1742 he described his own design of a cast-iron stove he called the Pennsylvania Fireplace, which we know today as the “Franklin stove”. It was a revolutionary solution and a real breakthrough in the history of heating.


The prototypes were open in front but two years later Franklin and his friend Robert Grace produced an all-closed iron stove with a gravity-assisted air heat exchanger inserted. It was a free-standing, partially open stove with an accordion door and a rounded protruding plate in front but it was connected to the chimney or put inside a standard fireplace. The stove had vertical baffles following the design by André Dalesme. Also, additional horizontal baffles induced the draft of cool air from the room which, after warming, was given off outside. The main advantage of this solution was its unusual heat efficiency and the possibility to dismantle the appliance and place it anywhere, the only condition being access to a chimney. Heat generated by Franklin stoves radiated to all sides. The appliance facilitated wood savings of thirty percent, employed new technologies and improved safe use, which made the inventor very popular.



Soon the stove was mass produced and sold also in Europe. Only Mark Twain, a writer and propagator of tiled stoves in the United States, criticised Franklin stoves claiming they were uneconomical and dangerous since their walls became increasingly hot. In an attempt to encourage Americans to build German tiled stoves in their households, the writer not only praised their exceptional look and variety of forms but assured that a tiled stove can be fired quickly and simply and most importantly it is safe. Despite this fact, the idea of transferring European stoves to the new continent never got a foothold.


Cast iron stoves 



The technique of melting and casting iron was developed more than five thousand years ago. However, cast iron was used for the purposes of heating as late as in the Middle Ages. It was used to produce fireplace plates. In the following centuries also fireplace hearths, doors and shields used for tiled stoves (19th century) were made from cast iron and from the mid-19th century this material was used to produce whole stoves. Some of them were even three metres tall. Admittedly, single hand-made stoves of this type had appeared already in the 16th century but they were very expensive and they were purchased very rarely to warm royal castles or palaces. One of the companies producing cast iron stoves at that time was the German Sommerhuber works established in 1491. Cast iron was in common use around 1800, when the wide-scale production of cast iron stoves was launched. Generally they were purchased by destitute inhabitants of cities, public institutions and churches. They derived from the iron stove invented by Benjamin Franklin which, produced in its original form, and subject to various modifications, not only conquered the American market but also became very popular in Europe.


Tradition is the key


In 1890 a Danish company Morso, a producer of furnaces for tiled stoves and free-standing cast iron stoves mounted heating appliances in about one thousand churches throughout Denmark and supplied stoves to many schools. Such resilient companies were quite numerous. Orlsberg, a company established in 1577, in 1875 commenced the production of free-standing cast iron stoves and is now a producer of storage heaters. Also in the mid-19th century a French iron foundry, Godin, put on the market a new model of stove, fired from the top or from the side, which has been produced to this day in an unchanged form. 


The development of the metallurgical industry enabled the production of large components of free-standing cast iron stoves. Combined into a whole structure they assumed various shapes and sizes – from multi-part boxes, through to oval, cylindrical or even figural. Prior to assembly cast iron parts of the stove were sanded, nickel-plated, varnished and often enamelled. Ceramic tiles were also used in constructing cast iron stoves. They filled the walls of the stove and were enclosed with the cast iron frames. The decorative ornament obviously made reference to styles characteristic of the specific period. Some smaller elements of stoves (knobs, door handles) were made of brass or copper.


In the first half of the 20th century free-standing stoves were displaced by steel stoves used for central heating. The present revival of stoves and fireplaces is not due to their utility values. Modern heating systems based on heavy-duty sources of heat are unrivalled in terms of heating efficiency. The factor behind introducing fireplaces to comfortable interiors is a trend in fashion. Designed with sophistication and beautifully made they are now a significant element of the living space shaped by architects. They also gather family and friends on long winter evenings and the heat they emanate creates a cosy atmosphere and a feeling of safety.