For cooking, cleaning, washing and bathing dirty toddlers, households need hot water. In the early days of the United States, that meant building a fire, grabbing a bucket, hiking to the well, carrying the water and waiting for it to warm.
During the late 19th century, in the highly competitive market for cast-iron stoves, manufacturers offered a new option: the hot water reservoir. The device, an iron box that was attached to the side of the stove, could allow a household to keep hot water on hand. Different versions allowed people to pump water directly from the well into the reservoir or to carry the water and fill it.
Urban households quickly embraced the new systems that allowed gas coils to heat water pipes, which gave way to modern water heaters. Rural American households depended on the stove reservoirs well into the 20th century.