1905 The Kalgoorlie electric stove

Curle Smith electric stove - patent drawing

The world’s first patent for a household electric stove was issued to David Curle Smith, the Kalgoorlie Municipal Electrical Engineer, in November 1905. About fifty appliances were then built and leased to customers in Kalgoorlie in the following years. The design lacked a thermostat – the temperature was controlled by the number of elements in use.

David Curle Smith’s wife, Helen Nora, wrote a cookbook to promote her husband’s invention. Thermo-Electrical Cooking Made Easy (Kalgoorlie, 1907) is therefore the world’s first cookbook for an electric stove. Helen Nora Curle Smith was the sister of Sir Walter Murdoch and therefore the great-aunt of Rupert Murdoch. A copy of her book (missing its cover) is held by the National Library of Australia. In 2011 Hesperian Press republished the book with an introductory essay outlining the invention and manufacture of the stove, and why the business venture failed.

I am indebted to Howard Willis for telling me about the Kalgoorlie electric stove. Howard wrote the introduction for the reprinted version of Helen Nora’s cookbook and supplied a copy of the original patent drawings. He told me:

“My interest in this story came when, in editing a book about a town near Kalgoorlie, I had to look through some newspapers in order to check some of our author’s work. Looking through old newspapers is a very risky business … especially such full-blown pieces of ratbaggery as the Kalgoorlie Miner and the Kalgoorlie Sun of 100 years ago. It took me a few months to discover the full story of the Kalgoorlie stove and the people associated with it, but once I found the cookbook I knew we could reprint it and, with a fairly long introductory essay, give long-overdue credit to David and Helen Nora Curle Smith. I was greatly encouraged by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and Ian Murdoch (Sir Walter’s grandson).”

The first heat-regulated electric stove patented in the USA, in 1915, incorporated a thermostat. Its inventor, Lloyd Copeman, eventually sold his patent to Westinghouse, and the rest is history.

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