My paternal grandmother cooked on a kerosene stove. She preferred them. She would have grown up with wood-fueled cookstoves and a kerosene stove is a lot less bother to use. The first good kerosene stoves started showing up when she was a young bride: in the very early 20th Century, John D. Rockefeller, eager to find new markets for oil distillates, helped fund efforts to develop improved kerosene stoves that resulted in the "Perfection" long-chimney burner, in which the flame never touches the pots and pans and the long path produces better combustion. Unlike earlier, pressurized, Primus-type oil stoves, the fuel is gravity fed and a simple wick adjustment controls the temperature. (The controls on a Primus stove are something of an art. Similar pressurized white-gas Coleman stoves are considerably simpler, thanks in part to the more-volatile fuel.)
It would have been a pretty wonderful device at the time. The Perfection design worked so well that it is still being made.
The timeline fits well with the now-demolished brick house my grandfather built for his growing (and eventually large) family. She would have had a modern kitchen and the kerosene stove would have been the centerpiece. (I don't know if the house had a matching water heater, but they were certainly available). Along with city running water and a nice icebox, it would have been very much of the times. (Ice was cheap and easy to come by for a long time; I don't know if the family ever had a monitor-top refrigerator or if they kept the older technology through WW II. Mom's family had natural-gas refrigerators by the mid-1930s, when her father worked for a southern Indiana company that made them. When my father bought a used but upscale travel trailer in the late 1970s, Mom was delighted to discover it had a propane refrigerator.)
Despite the 19th Century gas boom -- or perhaps because if it -- early gas stoves had an iffy reputation for safety. Lacking a pilot light and with valves that were easy to turn on by accident, asphyxiation and explosion were definite hazards for the first gas ranges.* A kerosene stove might leak, but that wasn't much more of a risk than kindling. They were popular for many years. I'm told my grandmother kept using hers well into the time of safe, modern gas and electric ranges, until she was finally convinced to replace it with an electric range a few years after my parents married.
* My first apartment, in a turn-of-the-century building in a town near the center of the Indiana Gas Field, had a minimalist cast-iron stove, bracketed to the wall. Two burners, no oven, and all of it right out in the open. The valves were quarter-turn types with 90-degree handles, and the landlord supplied wooden kitchen matches. Handle horizontal was off, handle down was full on: not exactly fail-safe. It sat next to a sink made of folded and soldered sheet zinc, mounted on similar cast-iron brackets -- and a modern refrigerator, dating from at least the 1950s. That last item was a relief. I'm not sure I would have been up to hauling blocks up ice up three flights of stairs and by the late 1970s, nobody was delivering.
BUILDING A 1:1 BALUN
3 years ago