Origin of the Lighting Lamp

Byzantine-era olive oil lamp
A pressure lamp, circa 1920s
Kerosene lamp with glass chimney

In the arcane world of oil lamps there are considered to be three distinct phases: simple olive oil lamps from prehistory to the 18th century, the Argand lamp created about 1780, and the kerosene lamp created about 1850.

First, the original oil lamp. First created from terra cotta, eventually this simple reservoir of oil and a plain wick produced light by soaking the wick in olive oil placed in the reservoir and lighting its end to produce light, but little heat. Evenually made from brass and bronze, it remained a standard light fixture until the invention of the Argan lamp in 1780.

It was a powerful invention for its time. Aime Argand patented a system that produced the first chimney-type of oil lamp with a brigher light equivalent to 6 to 10 candle power. Using spermaceti whale oil was also an improvement as it reduced the cost of heating the lamp itself. Until kerosene, a even cheaper fuel changed the face of lamps in 1850.

Basically, it was a change in the wick and how the air is drawn upward to maximize the use of oxygen near the flame. Ignacy Lukasiewicz, a Polish inventor, invented the new system about 1853. This draft form of lighting also came with a wick that can be adjusted up or down to increase the amount of light given off. But it was Abraham Gesner that pioneered the use of kerosene or coal oil in Halifax, Nova Scotia in his Kerosene Gas Light Company in 1850 which eventually was absorbed into Standard Oil Company.

There are additional variations of the oil lamp known as the mantle and pressure lamp. The mantle is a circular wick that uses more fuel, but also produces more light and heat. A pressure lamp relies on pumping air through to vaporize the kerosene before it is lighted. This is a popular version used by campers under the Coleman logo.

Many of the early oil lamps are quite collectible and are still used by many developing communities around the world as a cheap source of heat and light.

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