Saturday, April 15, 2023

Cole's Hot Blast Ranges and Cookstoves

In my occasional trollings through Ebay, I sometimes run across some interesting cookstove ephemera that I want to share here on the blog. Tonight, we have a catalog from the Cole Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois.  There is not date on the catalog, and a search of the Internet did not yield much information about this particular stove company at all.  However, I did find a site that said that the company closed down around 1920.  That information coupled with images from their 1916-1917 catalog, which was for sale at a different antique site, cause me to date this catalog at around 1920, thus making it one of the company's last.

The cover of the Cole catalog.

I've blown up the next view large enough that I think you'll be able to read it yourselves.  I'm entertained by the text on the left side and wonder whether there was some kind of "energy crisis" at the time that caused the price of coal to skyrocket like the price of heating oil did last fall.  There may not have been anything like that going on, though, as fuel economy is a topic often addressed in sales brochures for wood/coal cookstoves no matter the date of their publication.

Now, the next pictures are the ones that really caught my eye for this brochure.  Anytime I see a model of wood cookstove with the oven located somewhere other than the traditional spot to the right or left of the firebox, I am intrigued.  Before purchase, I think I had only seen a picture of the model on the left, and I couldn't help but think that this stove must have been a source of great frustration to those gallant souls who tried to cook on its stovetop.  You will note the barrel-shaped firepot at the base with four cooking lids arranged over its top.  This configuration is quite similar to the old-fashioned "laundry stoves" that were used to heat a pair of wash boilers before that advent of hot-running water.  

When I was in my very early teens, I purchased one of those laundry stoves at an antique store and hooked it up to an abandoned flue in the old school bus carcass that used to be here on our farm.  My brother and I had many, many fires in that stove while we cooked a variety of grass soups, popped field corn, and various other concocted "foods."  Although we never cooked any real foods on that stove, one of the things I learned quite quickly was that it didn't have the range of cooking temperatures that the surface of a cookstove has.  It was hottest over the center of the firepot, but beyond that, each of the four lids were of equal temperature.

I'm sure it would have been the same across the cooktop of the stove in the left picture.  The cook would have had to employ a variety of trivets and heat diffusers to create the varied temperatures that are needed for cooking most meals.  You may even notice that the text brags about this cookstove's room heating ability more than its ease of use for cooking.

The cookstove on the right in the scan above seems to have the answers to all of my suspicions about the one on the left.  You can see in the picture below, that the firebox is only at the front part of the base, thus creating a cooler surface at the back of the stove.  Granted, this still would have been a bit of a challenge because it wouldn't have been a lot cooler than the two front lids which are directly over the firebox, but some temperature difference would have existed.

Though this cookstove only had four cooking lids, I wonder if the high oven would have been bigger than the ovens on the little cookstoves that engineered like the one below.  I would think that it would certainly have been more even-heating with the flue gases hitting it squarely in the bottom rather than having the firebox occupy about a quarter of the surface area of the oven box.

That said, I wonder if "Cole's Square Base High Oven Range" would have been a popular choice with apartment dwellers of that time period.  This stove would have had a nice sized square oven while occupying a much smaller footprint in the kitchen than standard style range.

Speaking of standard style ranges, I find the range on the right side of the scan below to be extremely attractive.  The clean lines and angular trim just scream 1918 or 1919, and I think it is beautiful.  I might even use the word "masculine" to describe its solid, reliable appearance.

The next pages are interesting because they show Cole's line of "down-draft ranges."  As you can see, the Cole Manufacturing Company had designed a range where the drafts delivered air into the top of the firebox (hence the name "Hot Blast").  They advertise that this new technology is what allows their ranges to be so fuel-efficient.  What fascinates me about this is that delivering air into the top of the fire has been proven to create the most efficient combustion of wood, but not necessarily coal.  For this reason, the Margin Gem and other wood cookstoves that are being manufactured today use this technology, but they tout it as something that was discovered within the last thirty years.  It appears that the Cole Manufacturing Company was far ahead of its time.  

As you can see, Cole's offered three styles of downdraft ranges.

The rest of the catalog features their heating stoves, furnaces, and schoolhouse heaters--most of which feature the down draft air delivery system.  I would love to know what caused this company to close its doors so long before the Great Depression hit, so if you have any information to add, please do so in the comments section below.


  1. These are interesting stoves. We would have to admit, there was a lot of similarity between most of the stoves on the market at any given time. I have to hand it to this company for trying out some unique designs.

    Yet their claim to satisfying customers was not encouraging. On page 20 (second image): “Thousands of these have been sold throughout every territory. They have brought hundreds of very fine testimonials.” I do not know how many territories there were, but assuming ten (which seems conservative), that would make tens of thousands sold. Yet there were only “hundreds of … testimonials.” On the order of one or, maybe, a few percent. Not very good.

    It appears the products of combustion entering the high oven flow in a large, rectangular cross section flue passage. Then, at the exit, it looks like a normal flue pipe is used. I wonder what happens in between. That is, how the flue gases travel through (or around) the high oven for heat transfer. Then, what was done for cleaning the creosote and ash from that flow path?

    I think you have something when you conjectured: ‘…I wonder if "Cole's Square Base High Oven Range" would have been a popular choice with apartment dwellers of that time period.’ Even with the lack of temperature variation across the cook top, it might have been a good choice for a compact kitchen.

    Thank you for another interesting post!

  2. Hello! I have an antique wood oven/stove top and am looking to sell/donate. Do you have any recommendations for dealers or restoration companies?

  3. This was my grandfathers company! My mother was Carol Cole and raised on Gretna Farm in Wheaton ILL. The land was sold when my grandfather died and became a big part of a new city Carol Stream, ILL. My grandfather was Arthur Throop Cole and he had 6 or 7 brothers. My sister tells me that the stove company was mainly my granddad and one other of the brothers. I have so many stories and old photos. I also have some old documents advertising the stoves. I hope you find this comment, I see it was a year ago you posted all this wonderful information and photos.
    LMK if you find this. My email is
    Oh, and my grandfather built a home in Augusta Georgia on 2000 acres. He moved down there with the family during the depression and the Gretna Farm house was used for homeless people. Eventually the family moved to Pasadena California in the house I grew up in and where my grandfather passed away when I was in the 4th grade.
    Thank you so much.

  4. Fascinating glimpse into stove history! The Cole Manufacturing Company's innovative designs and early adoption of efficient heating technologies are truly ahead of their time.