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'Stove Man' Rescues Artifacts of Kitchens Past

Some of the restored stoves in Semmelroth's showroom. Semmelroth won't sell them to just anyone -- he prefers to see them in working kitchens or museums.
Art Silverman, NPR
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Some of the restored stoves in Semmelroth's showroom. Semmelroth won't sell them to just anyone -- he prefers to see them in working kitchens or museums.
Ed Semmelroth stands among some of the rusted old stoves he collects with plans to restore them.
Art Silverman, NPR /
/
Ed Semmelroth stands among some of the rusted old stoves he collects with plans to restore them.

A growing cadre of Americans collect, cook on, restore and generally admire old stoves, for their design, craftsmanship and superior performance. Among this group of devotees, Ed Semmelroth -- a.ka. "the stove man" -- is legendary for his passion and skill in restoring old stoves to nearly perfect conditions.

Semmelroth says stoves used to be manufactured in regional foundries, where a premium was placed on durability and craftsmanship. They changed in design and function when America began embracing conveniences like frozen dinners and microwaves. While he's careful not to disdain the sleek, chrome, high-performance stoves of today, he also says they can't hold a candle to the stoves he restores.

Semmelroth sells most of his finished stoves on the Internet, but he does keep a storefront showroom on main street in Takonsha, Mich. The collection there ranges from squat wood-burning models to gleaming high backs, some in candy-colored hues.

Semmelroth says he's not just saving old stoves. He's also trying to maintain a link to fading way of life -- to that time when the stove, not the television, was the center of home life.

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