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Arts & Life
On this page you'll find all of our stories on the city of Detroit.Suggest a story here and follow our podcast here.

Before cars, stoves were Detroit's claim to fame

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FLICKR USER AMERICANARTMUSEUM / FLICKR
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Writer Bill Loomis calls the stove “America’s first mass-marketed, had-to-have durable good.” According to Loomis, 19th century Detroit was known as “the Stove Capitol of the World.” His story appeared in The Detroit News.

Loomis attributes 19th century Detroit’s stove success to Jeremiah Dwyer, an influential ironman from Detroit whose father arrived from Ireland in the 1830s or 40s.

“He (Jeremiah) would walk by –  on his way to school – Barclay Iron Works. It was a foundry and he would watch them ladle in molten iron into these molds,” Loomis said. “And it sort of captivated him. He became almost obsessed with it. He would go over every night and watch it, watch the heat. He wrote kind of poetically about it later in life, how much he loved watching the heat rising up into the stars and all this kind of thing.”

But as a child, Dwyer was watching the making of steam ships, locomotives, farm implements and other similar products in the Barclay Iron Works foundry. It wasn’t until he came back from New York, having apprenticed at three different stove manufacturers, that the stove market began flourishing in Detroit.

By the 1870s, Jeremiah, with his brother James, made Detroit “a place to go for stoves."

Long before Detroit was known for cars then, it was turning out stoves. And like the car industry, the stove industry too capitalized on different designs and evolving models. Loomis said at its peak around 12 companies were producing stoves in Detroit, though four of the large ones produced the majority.

“They made up about 10% or more of the entire U.S. production of stoves, so it was a significant amount,” he said. “They produced upward of half a million stoves a year.”