Cool Things - Portable Stove
Kansas' Coleman Company sold many of these small stoves to the army during World War II, and to housewives after the war.
"Over a MILLION Gone to War!" read the title in The Saturday Evening Post on June 28, 1945. This advertisement wasn't referring to the U.S. soldiers preparing to return home after Nazi Germany's recent surrender, but rather to a "Grand Sport Stove For Every Outdoor Trip."
So what was this marvel that Wichita's Coleman Company trumpeted at the end of World War II? It was the "G-I Pocket Stove," about to be converted from wartime to peacetime use. Assembled, it looks like a metal cylinder 8 1/2 inches high and 4 1/2 inches in diameter, and weighing a little over three pounds. Taken apart (as in the photo on this page), its purpose as a stove becomes evident; the cylinder's cap doubles as a cooking pot.
The idea for this stove came from the army, but the design was created by experts at making portable stoves and lanterns. Early during the war, the army approached William Coleman about developing a portable stove for military use. The army expected much from this stove, and the Coleman Company was up to the challenge.
William Coleman's success story had begun in 1900, when as a young man he stumbled upon a small Alabama company producing lamps that put out a brilliant light. These new lamps used gasoline under pressure as their fuel, and instead of wicks they were outfitted with mantles which burned slower and brighter. Coleman purchased the inventory and patents in 1901, and relocated his operation to Wichita the following year. In 1914 he issued the celebrated Coleman lantern, which quickly became popular on farms and in rural areas around the country where electrical power was either unreliable or non-existent.
By the early years of World War II, the Coleman Company had forty years' experience making portable stoves and lanterns, and it already had been contributing to the war effort by producing projectiles and bomber parts. Still, the army's specifications for the new portable stove were rigorous. It had to be lightweight, burn any type of fuel, and operate in almost any kind of weather. And it needed to be small because it would be used by ski-troops and paratroopers, soldiers who would sometimes be behind enemy lines.
Coleman claimed success after just 60 days in development. Its prototype could burn for two hours on a cup of fuel taken from a jeep or an airplane. The stove swiftly boiled water for purification, and a single unit could heat drinks or field rations for two men. By the end of 1942, according to the company, 5,000 of its stoves were in North Africa with U.S. troops. Eventually, they were used in every battlefield in both the European and Pacific theaters.
It didn't take long for the Coleman Company to realize its new product might have home-front applications as well. A 1943 ad in The Farm Journal showed American ski-troopers "Holed Up in a SNOW CAVE Drink[ing] Hot Coffee Off a Coleman."
While the ad points out Coleman's efforts in supporting an Allied victory, there also is a nod to potential post-war uses: a photograph of two housewives with a portable stove and the tag line, "For Them Today--for YOU Tomorrow!"
Indeed, after the war the G-I Pocket Stove was marketed for civilian use. Selling for $9.95 in the Fall 1947 Sears & Roebuck catalog, the stove's many home and outdoor uses were played up by the manufacturer. At home you could use it to warm the baby's milk, do light cooking, make coffee and hot drinks, or prepare hot soup or boil water for sickroom needs. You could also use it in the workshop to heat a glue pot or a soldering iron.
Going outdoors? The Pocket Stove was said to be ideal for picnics or backyard snacks. Going on hunting, fishing or camping trips? Don't forget your Coleman Pocket Stove, which was fine for a heat source or to warm drinks in your cabin or duck blind. Have a trailer or a houseboat? You couldn't find anything handier than a Pocket Stove.
Alas, while the little stove served admirably in wartime and found some initial sales from returning solders who had used it on the battlefields, it apparently was on the market only a few years. Items developed by Coleman and others turned out to be more useful for peacetime. For example, in the years following the war Coleman saw great success with its fold-up camp stove that tapped into the burgeoning interest in camping among auto travelers.
This Coleman G-I Pocket Stove was donated to the Kansas Museum of History in 1979 by James Nottage of Topeka.
Entry: Cool Things - Portable Stove
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: September 2006
Date Modified: October 2010
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.