Thread Number: 77869  /  Tag: Ranges, Stoves, Ovens
Why were larger ranges more common?
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Post# 1019058   12/25/2018 at 15:29 by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

I was thinking about this. It seems like in older homes it was more common to see 36" or 40" ranges. Today though, this size is mostly only for the commercial style like Viking, etc and 36" and 40" ranges aren't really seen on the market anymore.

It's funny because even as a kid when I looked at Sears catalogs, I thought the specialty ranges like 40", 36" and ranges with the upper and lower oven just looked so dated next to the usual 30" ones. Of course this was only in the early 90s so it was kind of at the tail end of most of those styles.

I don't really see anything wider than 30" in most appliance stores and I don't think over/under ranges were made past about 1994 maybe.

The only person I know with a 40" range was may aunt. She had a GE, with two ovens. I don't remember much about it because she replaced it with a 30" smooth top Whirlpool around 1994-95. I think it was from the 1970s though because she also had a GE refrigerator that probably came along with it. But they bought that house in 1985 so I think it was definitely already in there. It was an older frame house from about 1950, but looked more like 1930s-40s.

Only thing I can think is that people just cooked more back then so having a larger space or room for a griddle/5th burner and an extra oven was something that people would want more than now.

Post# 1019061 , Reply# 1   12/25/2018 at 16:56 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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Maybe you had to cook everything more faster and all in a day’s work, if fridges back then were smaller...

But there were a lot of housewives dedicated to their kitchens who did love to cook, cooked everything well, and with whatever the latest convenience gadgets that they could get in these big stoves, and even could for the most part, afterwards get that kitchen (especially with help from a dishwasher) clean as a whistle!

— Dave

Post# 1019064 , Reply# 2   12/25/2018 at 17:36 by 114jwh (Vancouver)        

I've often thought about this as well. I'm guessing here but I think part of it may have been that many of these early electric/gas ranges were replacing wood & coal stoves, at least in Canada. The wood stoves were often a larger footprint than the 30" ranges which are standard today. As such, the layout in most existing kitchens would have accommodated a larger range. Typically the wood stoves would be isolated by themselves on a wall in the kitchen, without any adjacent countertops or cabinetry. When they started becoming obsolete, having the extra storage and counter space afforded by the 40" ranges likely became a very desirable. In addition, there was much more cooking and baking done back then and so having warming drawers or second ovens made life much easier, something that could only be accommodated with a 40" range.

I have an old house built in the 1930s that is for the most part, original. When I first saw the galley kitchen I thought it was so odd that there was a row of cabinets/countertop/sink on one side and then a stove and fridge by itself on the other side. After thinking about it (and pulling out wallpaper on the stove side of the kitchen and discovering the chimney!), I realized the house was built before gas/electric ranges were common and so it would have had a wood stove on that side originally and of course you couldn't build it into cabinets like we do today.

That's my guess anyway! Merry Christmas!

Post# 1019066 , Reply# 3   12/25/2018 at 18:14 by wayupnorth (On a lake between Bangor and Bar Harbor)        

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When I was a kid, people still needed the extra heat in that kitchen so many of the big solid fuel stoves were replaced with kerosene on the left and mostly gas on the right. They were all mostly 40". Eventually better furnaces were developed and that additional heat was not needed so the smaller stoves replaced them, extra cabinets put in and the chimney was wallpapered over. Nobody in my neighborhood had a dishwasher back then.

Post# 1019074 , Reply# 4   12/25/2018 at 19:48 by norgeway (mocksville n c )        
30 inch

Ranges were not introduced until 1950 by Frigidaire, this size quickly took over as most popular,

Post# 1019091 , Reply# 5   12/25/2018 at 22:54 by LowEfficiency (Iowa)        

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Don't forget about the impact of the introduction of microwave ovens. In a modern kitchen, the microwave does all kinds of jobs that would have traditionally required more stove burners or oven space to accomplish. So in a way, stoves/ovens don't *need* to be that large anymore to support the way the typically family eats.

Post# 1019092 , Reply# 6   12/25/2018 at 22:55 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Larger families, many women still at home as FT wives/mothers cooking three or more meals per day. Many housewives also still did their own baking as well. Then you had those massive Sunday and or holiday dinners where entire (large) families showed up. All this piled onto the relative new wealth that came to middle classes and even some lower during the post war era.

You also had plenty of wives/or households that came from the "old country" who kept up the old ways. Canning, making large amounts of stock, gravy or whatever that was stored away.

Those large ranges went hand in hand with larger refrigerators and or chest freezers.

Growing up homes that didn't have large ranges in main kitchen usually had a second (if not entire kitchen) in the basement. On holidays or special events both would be put into service to provide for the large numbers of guests.

Prior to being introduced for "middle class" homes, you found these large ranges by Chambers and others in same places on both sides of the pond; estates or large homes of the wealthy who did lots of entertaining.

Well into the 1960's women like Mrs. Minnie Kalikak needed "big" appliances (washing machines, ranges, refrigerators, to cope with their equally large families.

Later when the kids married and had families of their own it would be all hands on deck for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other big meals at grandma's house.

Of course by the 1970's and onwards to today things have changed. More women work outside of the home, and thanks to the vast and bewildering array of ready made, frozen, take away or whatever foods they also cook less.

This past holiday season (Christmas and Thanksgiving) heard more and more about same trend; people either catering in the food or going out. Even women who lived through the 1950's and so forth era of big family means have said "enough", "I'm not cooking all that food anymore".

As many of us have noticed those huge ranges aren't exactly selling points for houses. Often they are ripped out in a kitchen remodel and sold or scrapped.

Post# 1019134 , Reply# 7   12/26/2018 at 14:21 by MattL (Flushing, MI)        

Another thing to keep in mind is in the past many kitchens were quite "bare" in terms of counter top space and cabinets and there as room for a large range that often also added need counter top space.  I'm one who also has a basement "kitchen" of sorts with a 40" double oven range I that use for holidays a large gatherings.  But now I also have a convection microwave to take up some of the slack so the basement oven gets a little less use, but I still love the rotisserie for a chicken during the winter.

Post# 1019136 , Reply# 8   12/26/2018 at 14:28 by dermacie (my forever home (Glenshaw, PA))        

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I know that houses did not have kitchens with built-in cabinetry with standard sizes neither until after ww2.

Post# 1019154 , Reply# 9   12/26/2018 at 19:56 by joeekaitis (Rialto, California, USA)        
Because the Missus had to cook for all the farmhands . . .

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. . . she and Hubby brought into the world.

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Post# 1019156 , Reply# 10   12/26/2018 at 21:14 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

I have seen pictures in shelter magazines from the 40s and early 50s where baking a cake involved using the space next to the surface units for the mixer because of the counter space situation mentioned by MattL above. We had a friend with a kitchen like that. She did a lot of meal preparation while seated in a chair at the table that was in the middle of the kitchen. In modern kitchens, that table became an island where the work was done while standing. She had very few wall cabinets. There were two wall shelves next to the pre-fat Radiantube surface unit Frigidaire 40" range and that is where the Revere Ware and a Puritron air freshener lived. There was a pantry which provided a lot of storage, but no base cabinets on which you would find countertop space. The sink was a GE Electric Sink with a top loading dishwasher. The walls were painted a medium gray. The white appliances showed up nicely against the gray walls. Informal eating was not done at that table in the center of the kitchen. There was a table in the breakfast room that overlooked the back garden for that. The place was a beautiful late 40s time warp and the nice lady and her husband answered all of my questions. I remember asking what the button AFC meant on their table radio. He was quick with the answer, "Another Fat Cow." When I was older, I found out what it really meant, but for a childless couple, they could have fun with children.

Even in the 50s reports on electric ranges, CU stated that they tested 30" models because that was the most popular size.

Post# 1019245 , Reply# 11   12/27/2018 at 18:41 by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

The summer of '77 I worked in a hardware store that was a Frigidaire dealer, and I remember helping deliver several ranges while there. They also sold gas ranges - I'm thinking Sunray. We probably delivered about 15 ranges while I was there, and I'd say maybe 4 or 5 were 40" electrics. I only remember a couple gas ones going out. All of the 40" Frigidaires were sold to people who lived on farms - the people in town all bought 30" models, as did the remainder of the farm folks. This store had a much more rural clientele than the other appliance dealer in town, which sold GE. The GE dealer sold a lot of built-in ovens and cooktops, but I don't ever remember any Frigidaire built-ins being sold by the store I was in, nor were they even on display.

I hate to correct people, but Derek is mistaken about when built-in cabinetry in standardized sizes became available. My dad's aunt and uncle built their house in 1936, and it had very nice built-in cabinets by Whitehead Metal Products, with Monel Metal tops and sinks. They came in 3" increments, just like cabinets today.

Link to Whitehead brochure.


Post# 1019246 , Reply# 12   12/27/2018 at 18:58 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

Monel countertops! Very pricey and TOL; would last forever unless the house was flipped or otherwise desecrated.

How many of the 40" ranges that went to farms had the divided cooktops with the workspace in the middle? They're best for food preservation whether canning or freezing.

Post# 1019249 , Reply# 13   12/27/2018 at 19:05 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Built in kitchen cabinets

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We've had this discussion before.....

Generally trend in built in cabinetry began just before or after WWI. It was prompted by studies, research and in aid of promoting household efficiency.

Husband and wife efficiency expert team of Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth were main contributors to these efforts, but there were others.

Early part of last century on both sides of pond there was an explosion of science and "scientific methods" being applied to industry. The Gilbreths and others also saw a need to bring such efforts to the housewife/household in order to lighten work loads.

Book and later film "Cheaper By The Dozen" was from work done by the Gilbreths.

Keep in mind also various social trends were also coming into play post WWI. For one the "servant problem" was becoming acute. Middle class and even some wealthy households were having to learn how to get on without an army of servants. Even a daily or maid of all work was becoming difficult to find, especially one the household could afford.

So Madame found herself working along side the "help" or doing much of the work herself. Happily mod cons were coming on board (thanks to our friend Mr. Electricity), that took some of the work off.

As you can see from this vintage GE film (circa 1930's)built in cabinetry has certainly become common enough.

Post# 1019250 , Reply# 14   12/27/2018 at 19:11 by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

I remember a couple of them having the divided top, as did one on display in the store. I think the others had SC ovens, so had the units at the left side.

As for the Monel tops, when we sold the house in '90 after Uncle Fred's death, they still looked nearly new - 54 years later.

Post# 1019251 , Reply# 15   12/27/2018 at 19:27 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Monel metal

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Was everywhere in the home for awhile; from countertops to water heaters. And yes, you can't kill the stuff.

Sadly due to expense it has largely been long since phased out and replaced by stainless steel.

Vitrolite was another product used for countertops, table tops, along with kitchen and bath tiles.

Post# 1019252 , Reply# 16   12/27/2018 at 20:11 by joelippard (Hickory, NC)        

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My dear late Grandmother who loved the kitchen and could always be found there insisted on the 40 inch range.  When they first built the house it was outfitted with those Monel counter tops that Tom mentioned.  She kept those until 1980 and did a full kitchen remodel at that time.  She purchased a new 40" Frigidaire and it's still in place and working today.

Post# 1019254 , Reply# 17   12/27/2018 at 21:22 by norgeway (mocksville n c )        
re divided top ranges

I loathe divided tops, I want the units clustered with a workspace on one side.

Post# 1019272 , Reply# 18   12/28/2018 at 06:20 by Xraytech (S.W. Pennsylvania, near Pittsb)        

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I’m with Hans here, I hate the split cooktop. My 1946 kitchen has a slot for a 40” range, not much counter space, so having the few extra inches on the stove is very valueable, and I find it to be wasted space on the split cooktop.

I personally find no issue using the clustered burners for canning, and neither did Grandma in her decades of canning on a 40” P*7 GE with sensi-temp.

Post# 1019334 , Reply# 19   12/28/2018 at 19:35 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

I normally prefer the 4 surface units clustered, but my wonderful Westinghouse 40" range with the 30 inch wide oven of necessity, because of the recessed double wide broiler element, has the divided cooktop. I found it very helpful in making pepper jelly because the rectangular pan holding the jelly jars in hot water could sit on the stove top protector mat in the middle with a saucepan of hot water with the lids on the front 6 inch element. The pan of jelly sat on the right front 8 inch element and from there the jelly was ladled into the hot jars which then had lids and bands put on them. It is a wonderful 40" worksurface with the great mid-50s Westinghouse COROX units. Unfortunately, the oven, while wide, is not deep and while I could bake 4 or even 6 pound cakes in one session in the Frigidaire 40 inch ranges with two very deep ovens, the 40 inch Westinghouse with that wide oven could only bake two at a time. It was, however, possible to bake 6 pies or cake layers at once in it.

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