Sunday, August 29, 2010


In 1892, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the National Association of Stove Manufacturers made an effort to identify all stove manufacturers in the United States, including all of its non-members and the many new firms, some of them located in areas quite remote from the industry’s old centers.  

What it discovered was a very considerable turnover within the industry.  128 of 1874’s 221 firms, which had contributed 118,000 tons (46.4 percent) of production capacity at that time, had disappeared.  But this was in the context of an industry that was still growing, in output and in number of active firms, as well as experiencing a great deal of spatial reorganization – away from some of the towns and states which had once dominated it; towards the South and [Mid] West, and within those regions towards newly-industrializing small cities with low production costs.

The following table summarizes the changes of 18 years.  Unfortunately, there is no production data comparable to 1874’s, so all we can do is a crude count of stove firms, large and small.  Almost all were still single-plant, proprietary enterprises, however; so we are looking at where the industry was actually located, rather than just at where its constituent firms were legally domiciled.  For each state, one can see (a) how many firms present in 1874 had disappeared over the years, (b) how many continued in existence, and (c) how many were new foundations.  

The big changes are plain enough: Pennsylvania and Illinois, centers of the nation’s iron and steel industry, had made the largest absolute gains in numbers of stove firms; in terms of their share of the national industry, the greatest net gains had again been made by Illinois, followed by Alabama, Maryland, and Tennessee.  The industry was following its markets, towards the American rural heartland where consumers still had no practicable alternative to solid fuel for cooking and heating (with the partial exception of the kerosene cook-stove).  It was also locating closer to its raw material sources, which were now overwhelmingly American, the earlier New England, Mid-Atlantic and even Midwestern industry’s dependence on imported Scotch Pig (iron) having ended.  A tidewater location was no longer of any advantage.  Transport costs for raw materials and end products argued strongly in favour of relocation towards the interior and the South – a region acquiring the stove habit a generation after the rest of the United States, and also well endowed with the finest cheap foundry pig iron in the country, and its cheapest labor supply.

No comments: