Among many other inventions, Benjamin Franklin contributed the Franklin stove in 1742, or as he called it, the “New Pennsylvania Fireplace”. Although Americans already had fireplaces for warming the home, Franklin’s stove was innovative because of its metal lining and iron plates which essentially allowed for more heat and less smoke. This photo of Franklin’s original design, was drawn by Benjamin Franklin himself, and was included in his essay description of the stove. The essay was written to promote the model being manufactured at the time by his friend Robert Grace.
Prior to the Franklin Stove, open fireplaces were the main source for heating homes. Franklin’s stove design was helpful as it provided more heat than typical fireplaces of the time, with a lot less smoke. The iron plates helped control the airflow, so that less heat was lost, and as a result, less wood was needed. In addition, since the iron walls absorbed the heat, the stove continued to provide warmth even after the fire went out. These characteristics of the stove were all very convenient for the typical colonial home in America during cold weather.
In his essay, Franklin includes a detailed description of the design, both through text, and through illustration. The manner in which Franklin illustrates his design shows accuracy through careful measurements, and a scale of inches at the bottom. As shown in his table of contents, he then goes on to describe in detail each piece of the stove. At the bottom of that page, he also includes a poem about the stove, comparing it to the sun, calling it a “new sun”. Perhaps this suggests the contemporary view of nature. The poem makes note of the new stove being more reliable, or “faithful”, than nature’s sun. It also mentions that the stove “warms when we please, and just as we desire.” These remarks go hand in hand with the eighteenth century American attitude toward nature as something that is only for human satisfaction and can easily be replaced by man-made creations.
He originally intended for the stove to be used both in heating, and cooking, but his stove was largely used for heating rooms. The design shown above became so popular that this essay was reprinted and translated into several languages. As popular as it was, the Franklin stove still had many flaws. Since Franklin did not patent his stove, the design was open to be worked on, recreated, and improved by others. Other innovators made many improvements to the design, and while some newer versions became more popular than Franklin’s, his design was an important contribution as it improved previous versions and influenced even better future versions. The actual Franklin stove was definitely not an enormous success in terms of sales, but elements of it were carried on into future stoves and helped develop more innovations.