To find the origin of the stove, one must go back to dynastic China. The first known cooking apparatus that completely enclosed a fire was built from clay during the Qin dynasty (221 - 207 B.C.). A few thousand miles to the west, the first record of a stove in Europe occurs in 1490 in the town of Alsace, France.
Benjamin Franklin invented a wood-burning stove made of iron in the mid-18th century. Although a genius by any standard, he made a major design error in routing the smoke out through the bottom of the stove. Eventually fumes were eliminated through a tube atop the stove that reached outside. Variations of the Franklin model were the standard for several decades.
Eventually, gas stoves replaced coal or wood burners as many customers found them easier to use. English inventor James Sharp received a patent in 1826 and by the start of the 20th century gas ovens were commonplace in households due mainly to their ease of operation and nominal space requirements.
Numerous breakthroughs set the stage for the next step in the evolutionary process of how people cook their food. Canadian executive Thomas Ahearn put together the first electric range in 1892.
In 1896, William Hadaway received the first patent for an electric stove, and by the late 1920s, these stoves began to compete with their gas counterparts. Electric stoves became more fashionable because they were easier to clean, less expensive and faster. Some cooks at the time complained the electric stove took the art out of cooking, sacrificing loving preparation for the saving of a few minutes and dollars.
Many companies began manufacturing electric ranges, nearly all of them resistor heating coil models with the same basic components. Each has a thermostat, burners, separate broil and bake rods, a timer and an oven light. The burners are typically made up of circular metal cylinders of nichrome-alloy resistance wires. Electricity is sent through the wires, producing heat that comes out of the elements, which turn red when the control knob reaches the highest level. The levels of voltage allowed through the wires determine the different heat settings.
Inside the oven are the cooking racks – a bottom element used for baking and a top element for broiling. As is the case with the burners, once the flow of current is turned on, resistance materials allow each to heat to the pre-set temperature. When the oven reaches that level, a thermometer gauge signals the thermostat to turn down the heat. When the oven begins to cool, it signals it to resume heating.
Glass-ceramic burners were the next major innovation. Introduced in the 1970s, the burners offered the advantage of a low coefficient of heat conduction that allowed the easy passage of infrared radiation. Due to its physical makeup, the burner heats more rapidly with minimal afterheat. Another advantage is a smooth, flat surface that is simpler to clean.
Still another technology involves induction stoves, which heat through electromagnetic induction. However, such cooking necessitates the use of pots and pans with ferromagnetic bottoms.
Nearly all kitchens in the United States have either a gas or electric range. Both can accomplish the same tasks and the choice between them comes down to individual tastes.