We are fast headed towards winter with the re-igniting of furnaces and comforts of central heating. Staying warm is much easier in 2014 than it was even a hundred years ago. Even so, it was possible to gather around the hearth and remain at least moderately warm inside before the wonders of central heating. But what did people do when they had to travel in the winter months? What means did travelers in coaches and trains have for keeping warm?
The traditional way of keeping hands and feet warm in coaches was the use of lap robes and heated bricks. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, passengers on trains could thank the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, as well as Baltimore potter Maulden Perine, for passenger car designs that included concessions to passenger comfort.
Novelist and world traveler Charles Dickens provided us with a very detailed account of mid-nineteenth-century American passenger cars. His description included a less than favorable review of the heating system then in use:
The cars are like shabby omnibuses, but larger: holding thirty, forty, fifty, people. The seats, instead of stretching from end to end, are placed crosswise. Each seat holds two persons. There is a long row of them on each side of the caravan, a narrow passage up the middle, and a door at both ends. In the centre of the carriage there is usually a stove, fed with charcoal or anthracite coal; which is for the most part red-hot. It is insufferably close; and you see the hot air fluttering between yourself and any other object you may happen to look at, like the ghost of smoke (Dickens 1842).
Dickens’ portrayal suggests that it was difficult to control the exact temperature in the train cars, with passengers closest to the coal-fired stoves probably sweltering, while travelers furthest away were most likely cold. Really apparent from his description, however, is why the B&O railroad turned to a stoneware potter to assist in insuring the safety of the heating system. The “red-hot” stove that so offended Dickens would have posed a considerable fire hazard in a train car constructed of wood.
Pioneers in the design of railway passenger cars, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) began to use heating devices in its railway cars starting as early as January of 1836 (Myers 1984:62). Of considerable importance was reducing the risk of fire in the cars. In order to meet this challenge, the cast iron stoves needed to include refractory cylinders that served as liners and prevented the coal-produced heat from causing fire. The B&O turned to a local Baltimore potter, Maulden Perine, for assistance.
In 1827, Maulden Perine opened a pottery (18BC20) on the northwest corner of Lexington and Pine Streets, where he continued in business for the next 20 years (Harrison 1977). As early as the end of 1837, Perine’s pottery also produced refractors for the coal firing stoves used on railway cars. These “Cillenders”, as Perine called them in his business records (Kille 2011:115), looked like large stove-pipe liners and lessened the risk of fire where the stovepipe passed through wooden car body. Perine sold the refractors to both the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Washington Rail Road Company (Kille 2011).
By 1840, Perine was prosperous enough to open a second pottery at Baltimore and Schroeder Streets and by 1844 had entered into partnership with English potter William Linton. The partnership lasted until 1848, at which time Perine ran the Baltimore Street pottery and Linton took over the Lexington Street pottery. Perine produced both stoneware and earthenware; vessels included jugs, pans, dishes, pitchers, teapots, bedpans, spittoons, chimney pots, toys and fire bricks (Harrison 1977:4-5).
In its early years, the railroad industry had to consider and deal with a number of safety and comfort-related challenges, especially as the railway system quickly became an integral part of American life. Although Maulden Perine was perhaps better known during his lifetime for producing flowerpots and utilitarian wares, his refractory cylinders insured that train travelers would be guaranteed a safe source of heat while riding the rails.
Charles Dickens. 1842 American Notes For General Circulation. Transcribed from the 1913 Chapman & Hall, Ltd. edition by David Price. Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/675/675-h/675-h.htm.
Deborah W. Harrison. 1977. Preliminary Site Examination of Three Sites in the City Boulevard Corridor, Baltimore, Maryland. Unpublished report on file at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville, Maryland.
John E. Kille. 2011. The Transformation of Pottery Production in Industrial Baltimore. American Ceramic Circle, Volume XVI:111-137.
Susan H. Myers. 1984. Marketing American Pottery: Maulden Perine in Baltimore. Winterthur Portfolio 19(1):51-66.