A family business that grew from a backyard foundry to a major commercial enterprise, Hardwick Stove Company shaped Bradley County’s industrial history for over one hundred years. Its founder, Christopher Hardwick, began building cast iron stoves in his Cleveland, Tennessee, backyard in the 1870s. A farmer and merchant prior to the Civil War, Hardwick was left penniless after the war by his support of the Confederacy. He was industrious and resourceful, though, and established the Stove Foundry with two of his sons, Joseph and John. In 1880 Hardwick also launched a second venture, Cleveland Woolen Mills, which became another Bradley County industry. He was one of Cleveland’s most influential businessmen, joining the ranks of the New South capitalists.
Hardwick’s small backyard project expanded and prospered rapidly. By the late 1880s, the foundry, then called Cleveland Stove Works, employed 15 workers, produced 12 stoves per day, and was valued at over ten thousand dollars. The company sold stoves across the South and tripled its work force by 1894. The company remained under family control and became the Hardwick Stove Company, as authority passed from Hardwick to his son Joseph, and then to Joseph’s son C. L., who spent a total of sixty-three years with the firm, serving as manager and president for nearly fifty years before his death in 1961.
Much of the Hardwicks’ success rested on expansion, as they kept abreast of new developments and offered a variety of styles and products. From 1942 to 1945 production of stoves halted while the company manufactured World War II aircraft components. During this period, the factory developed a system of inspection and quality control that converted to postwar production when the company returned to the manufacture of stoves. In the 1950s Hardwick added electric ranges to its line of gas stoves. Throughout its process, Hardwick controlled every facet of stove production. Presses in the die shop cut and stamped large sheets of metal, and a pipe shop division manufactured gas lines for gas ranges. Only the heat controls were produced elsewhere.
Under the direction of Reeves Brown, president from 1962 to 1975, the Hardwick Stove Company opened a national service center and introduced continuous cleaning ovens. Harold C. Almond assumed the role of company president in 1975. In 1981 the Maytag Corporation acquired the Hardwick Stove Company. During that decade Hardwick employed over 1,000 people and produced over 250,000 stoves annually. In its more than one hundred years of production, Hardwick Stove Company made the transition from wood stoves to gas and electric ranges and microwaves, manufacturing over 9,750,000 stoves of all types. In the 1990s Hardwick and other major stove manufacturers were acquired and combined into Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products, a corporation with 2,700 employees in 2001. A second associated company, Maytag Customer Service, employs 300.
The Hardwick name has remained, however, as part of the former woolen mills operation, now Hardwick Clothes, an employer of 680 in 2001. The old textile mill complex of the Hardwick Woolen Mills was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.