Wrought Iron Range Company
||Here is an example of an old ad for the company. |
Some history of the Wrought Iron Range Company:
The Wrought Iron Range Company Building at 1901-37 Washington Avenue, included in the boundary
of the St. Louis Central Business District, occupies the entire city block bounded by Washington Avenue
to the south, 19th Street to the east, Lucas Avenue (an alley here) to the north and 20th Street to
The Wrought Iron Range Company, incorporated by three Culver brothers in 1881, grew to become one
of the city's largest and most important producers of stoves. Although local architect Albert H. Knell received
multiple commissions from the prosperous Culver family, all of his commercial work for the manufacturing
company they founded has been razed except for this unusually fine Tudor Revival building. Designed to
combine an upstairs showroom with rental storefronts, the Wrought Iron Range Company Building displayed
a unique corporate image for downtown in its successful adaptation of high-style residential architecture for
commercial use. It retains excellent integrity. The period of significance extends from 1926 to 1928, and
reflects the years that the Wrought Iron Range Company used the building as their main display showroom;
the company however retained ownership of the building until 1951.
By the 1990s, it gave an appearance of abandonment, with numerous storefront windows boarded over,
but in fact has been at least partially occupied almost continuously by various tenants. In March 2004 it was
sold to a new owner who renovated the building, restoring the old storefronts and converting the upper floor
to residential use
Ohio-born brothers Henry Harrison Culver , William Wallace Culver and Lucius Lewellyn Culver
began their collaborative careers as traveling salesmen for Farmer Cook Stoves in 1864. Traveling
door-to-door with m ule-drawn wagons loaded with cast iron stoves, each had a different trade
territory to cover. Within a decade the trio had garnered enough financial resources to move to
St. Louis, establish an office, expand into more states and hire a sales crew. Difficulty obtaining
replacement parts for brittle cast iron castings produced by the Farmer Cook Stove Company
prompted the Culvers to start manufacturing their own product in a city blessed with nearby
coal and iron deposits.
||The Wrought Iron Range Company, incorporated with $30,000, opened for business in a modest factory at 9
Street and Christy Avenue in 1881. Breakage problems associated with the competitor's cast iron stoves were
solved by adding wrought iron sheets to the body and the oven of the brothers' trademark Home Comfort
stoves.' New features included increased cooking top surface and built-in ovens. By the spring of 1883, the
company had increased capital stock to $1 million and moved operations west to a new plant at 19th and
Washington Avenue. Soon, the impressive factory would cover an entire city block|
Although all three founders died around the turn of the century, Culver sons (and later grandsons) took over the
thriving business and family philanthropies including the Culver Military Academy established in 1894 in Culver ,
Indiana In 1910 Wrought Iron Range bought a large tract of land near the city limits and began construction in
1911 of a 250,000 square foot "modern fireproof plant at 5661-81 Natural Bridge Road. Designed by Baker & Knell
of St. Louis with construction by Murch Brothers, the project was estimated at $180,000. Included in the
programming for the new plant was an area devoted to the production of miniature ranges. "Correct to the last
detail," the small-scale models for traveling salesmen allowed each salesman to be equipped with a horse-drawn
buggy rather than the old heavy wagons. Showrooms remained in the old factory on Washington Avenue. In
1919, Albert Knell (whose architectural office address is now listed at the factory) designed a $10,000 addition
to the Natural Bridge facility. Another one of $75,000 by Knell followed in 1921.
In June of 1925, the company applied for a permit to raze the old three-story factory on Washington Avenue and replace
it with a two-story building designed as showroom and spec ulative rental space. Once again, the Culver s turned to
architect Albert H. Knell (1854-c. 1930). Although virtually nothing is known about his formal training, Canadian-born Knell
attended school from ages seven to twenty-three in Zurich (Switzerland) nd Stuttgart (Germany) before establishing a
St. Louis practice in 1884 at age thirty. Back on his own after a brief partnership with Henry Isaacs, Knell received one of
the most important commissions of his career a house for the W. W. Culver family in just-opened Portland Place. With an
estimated cost of $75,000 on the permit from July 24, 1891, # 39 Portland set a precedent for the many imposing
mansions to follow on this premiere private street. The following year Knell received a commission from James Gay Butler
and designed a lavish Queen Anne house on West Pine Boulevard. Before the end of the decade, Knell would go on to
design the Culver Building (razed) at 12th and Locust Streets and begin work on what would eventually be twenty-two
red brick buildings on the campus of Culver Military Academy in Indiana a school supported by the Culver Foundation.
Knell's mixed-use replacement building for Wrought Iron Range wo uld be dramatically different in design and function. With
an estimated cost of $100,000, the company showroom and rental shops built in 1925-26 by Murch Bros. Construction
brought an elongated Tudor Revival village to the commercial streetscape. Attention to that full city block streetscape is
evident in the handsome materials, decorative half-timbering and the carefull (and costly) transition at each Washington
Avenue corner where residentially scaled, high style elements lead almost seamlessly into the straightforward red brick rear
The linear front elevation, punctuated by nine peaked gables arranged in three sections separated by two faux-chimney
piers, is an architectural oddity in this location. A style at the height of its popularity in suburban residential architecture
during the 1920s, this loose variation of late Medieval England was a bold, almost alien, choice for a spec ulative piece
of downtown St. Louis real estate.
Earlier 19th century biographies of the founders and histories of their corporation recorded the "meager means" the
brothers left in their Ohio family of origin. No mention was made of a notable ancestry.
Whatever the intent was in choosing this particimage, the company presence wo uld not last long at its spec ulative
Washington Avenue Tudor Revival showplace. Completed in 1926 in time for listings of occupants in the 1927 City
Directory, most of the shotgunstyle rental space on the first floor was occupied by an assortment of tenants producing
everything from coffee mills to scales. Entry to the Wrought Iron Range second floor showroom was provided through
the stone-trimmed central bay placed in the middle of the composition. But by 1929, a separate Wrought Iron Range
showroom address was no longer shown at this address nor was it listed at any address in future City Directories.
It must be assumed that the showroom function was incorporated at the company factory on Natural Bridge.
Edwin Culver Jr., grandson of founder Henry Harrison Culver, retired from the company in 1960. Soon thereafter Wrought Iron
Range was bought by the Universal Match Company. Today, no trace of the Knell-designed industrial complex has survived,
leaving only the Washington Avenue project as evidence of decades of significant collaborations between architect and client.
Wrought Iron Range Co.
Location: St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri
Founder: Henry Harrison Culver (1840-1897)
Period of Production: 1881-1960
Products Manufactured: Limited Line
WIRCO cookware, made and sold primarily as an accessory to its main product, cook stoves, was also cast
from the more malleable iron used to good effect on its ranges. This unfortunately resulted in most WIRCO
skillets becoming warped.
1864 - H.H. Culver and two of his brothers work as travelling salesmen marketing cook stoves to farmers.
1873 - Frequent complaints of breakage compel Culvers to leave the cast iron stove business.
1874 - After several failed business ventures, the Culver borthers settle in St. Louis, MO.
1881 - Culver brothers innnovation of using wrought iron instead of cast iron for stove manufacture leads them to
establish Wrought Iron Range Co.
1881 - H.H. Culver suffers debilitating stroke, and retires in 1883.
1930s - WIRCO's Home Comfort line of wood and coal-fired ranges enjoys popularity on up through the 1930s.
1960 - Company sold to Universal Match Co.
Robert B. D. Hartman on Wrought Iron Range Company all pdf format: