Giles F. Filley – commonly known as G.F. Filley – was the founder of the Excelsior Manufacturing Company and of the Charter Oak Stove and Range. In addition to the wildly popular Charter Oak stove, Filley and Excelsior produced hollow ware which is highly sought-after by collectors of quality cast iron cookware.
At age 19, Giles F. Filley moved to St. Louis from Cincinnati in 1834 to partner with his brother in the tinware business. He sold his interest to his brother and opened a crockery shop in 1841. While the business made a profit, it was not enough to keep the business going. He closed the business in 1849. 1
Excelsior Stove Works
After closing his crockery shop, G.F. Filley started the Excelsior Stove Works (“Excelsior”) business in 1949 in St. Louis Missouri. Excelsior was chartered to manufacture cast iron stoves and all of its “appurtenances” such as cast iron hollow ware. 3
G.F. Filley and Excelsior Hollow Ware
In addition to stoves, G.F. Filley and Excelsior produced cast iron pots, spiders, kettles and griddles carrying the names G.F. Filley and Excelsior. Waffle irons, gem pans, and miniature toy cookware and stoves were also produced bearing the name “G.F. Filley.”
Marked Filley pieces are highly collectible. Gem pans and waffle irons are particularly sought-after by collectors. Of the 12 known variations of Filley gem pans, those that are scarce and in good condition can bring hundreds of dollars. The number 7 gem pan is considered to be the most finely-finished and hardest to find; thus it brings the highest price. At an auction in Missouri in May 2019, the number 7 brought $575.
The number 5 is considered the most “common.” 4
Excelsior produced 644 cast iron stoves in its first year. The stoves were a great success. The following year, nearly 6,000 stoves were produced.
In 1851 G.F. Filley invented and obtained the patent for a particular kind of mesh vent for a stove that increased air circulation within the stove. 5 Using that invention, beginning in 1851 Excelsior began producing a stove called the “Charter Oak Cooking Stove.” 6
The Charter Oak cooking stove became Excelsior’s premiere model. In 1952, 12,000 Charter Oak stoves were produced. By 1859 almost 23,000 stoves were produced, and in 1869 production was at 33,000.
Excelsior Manufacturing Company
In 1865 after the end of the Civil war, Excelsior Stove Works was reincorporated as the Excelsior Manufacturing Company. Charter Oak stoves continued to be in high demand, and the company was profitable.
The Downturn of G.F. Filley’s Fortune
G.F. Filley’s success turned, however, in around 1867. He learned that he was indebted in the amount of $1,000,000 as a result of personal notes that he had co-signed for a friend, John How. 7 Mr. How had been a prominent and well-respected St. Louis businessman and was a previous mayor of the town.
How had asked G.F. Filley to co-sign notes ranging from $1,000 to $
When Mr. How’s interests failed, he fled town leaving his debts to be paid by G.F. Filley. Over a period of 15 years Mr. Filley worked with his company to pay off How’s debts. By February 1881 he had done so. How’s debt with interest amounted to over $1,300,000.
Paying that huge amount took its financial toll on Mr. Filley’s family and the business. He was forced to use most of the profit from Excelsior to pay How’s debt.
On February 6, 1896, G.F. Filley and the other officers of Excelsior were forced by a financial need to assign Excelsior. G.F. Filley – then age 81 – retired.
Charter Oak Range and Iron Company
Excelsior reorganized by July 1896 as the Charter Oak Range and Iron Company. Charter Oak leased the Excelsior premises and began production.
The Reynolds Metal Company purchased Charter Oak Range and Iron Company in 1943. Business continued in St. Louis into the 1950s.
G.F. Filley’s Memorial
G.F. Filley was widely praised as an honorable and righteous man. When he died on February 27, 1900, one obituary reported:
“In his personal character, Mr. Filley was a rare combination of force and tenderness. It is said of him that he had the hand of a man and the heart of a child. Always and everywhere he had the courage of his convictions, but while his opinions were positive, he was neither dogmatic in their assertion nor obstinate in their defense. He was lovable in many ways, and probably few men enjoyed so wide a personal popularity.”
The Metal Workerp. 28, March 10, 1900.
- A very detailed accounting of Giles Filley can be found online at the Turner Brigade. There is also an interesting if incomplete biography of G.F. Filley here. Further material for this article was gleaned from The Age of Steel, March 3, 1900, Vol. 87.
- As reprinted in A Stove Less Ordinary, 2015. http://stovehistory.blogspot.com/2015/01/giles-filley-inventor-of-charter-oak.htm
- It was common for stove makers of the day to produce cast iron hollowware to be sold along with the stoves.
- Filley gem pans are described and pictured in the “Red Book,” Smith and Wafford, The Book of Wagner & Griswold (2001). The prices listed in that book are not current. To determine current selling prices of vintage cast iron, see the tips and hints in my article about learning more about your vintage cast iron.
- The patent history is convoluted, and I have not located the original patent. According to a court case from 1879, the history is as follows: “said [stove] improvements were patented to [Filley] June 14th, 1853; … the patent was reissued to him December 27th, 1859; and … it was extended for seven years from the 14th of June, 1867.” Filley v. Child, 2879 (S.D. New York 1879).
- Filley is said to have named the company after a Charter Oak tree in Connecticut.
- Per one inflation calculator, that million dollars equals $17,266,756.76 in 2019 dollars.