The Origin and Development of the Incandescent Paraffin Lamp

A. R. J. RAMSEY, C.P A., (Member of Council)
(Read at the Science Museum, London, 2 October 1968)


Mr. B. H. Ryder,
Said that, hiving lived in Kenya for something like 45 years he knew how indebted they had been to the incandescent paraffin type of lamp; he had spent many hours replacing mantles.
He could quite confirm what T. E. Lawrence said that to let any African touch the lamps was completely fatal.

Mr. J. A. Crabtree,
Asked how, prior to the Smith design, it was possible to light the lamp when the mantle was in place and had become brittle.  The difficulties of producing a good heating flame by the pressure type of lamp had probably been solved very much earlier than with a wick lamp. Did the pressure paraffin lamp in a saleable form precede the really successful wick lamp?

Mr. Ramsey,
Answering the first part of the question, said that the early makes of lamp had serious difficulties with the mantle. Once the mantle had been burnt it was very fragile; to shift it and relight the lamp was almost impossible. The earliest pressure lamp that really got into use was Kitsons about 1901, but it was very difficult to find information about that because Kitwn didn't take out a patent and the Company had been out of existence for a great many years.  Presumably they were not very succcessful.

Mr. G. H. Cleare,
Said in the middle thirties he used to stay in a cottage in North Cornwall where he had one of Aladdin's lamps. You lit it by detaching the mantle. There was sufficient slack in the bayonet fixing for this to be done. You could usually make the mantle last a fortnight after which it just fell to pieces.

Mr.  J. G. B. Hills,
Asked how the Bude lamp was supplied with oxygen. Cylinders for compressed gases have been subject to Home Office Regulations since 1890; but had they gas cylinders as early as 1839; or did they generate oxygen chemically on the spot?

Mr. Ramsey,
Said he had read the specification very carefully with those points in mind but they don’t say. They merely say they introduce oxygen through a conduit which is marked on the drawing and there is a control cock which turned it on or off. Whether their lamp got into use he didn't know.

Mention was made of the use of pressure-fuelled lanterns in lighthouses.

Lt. Col.  T. M. Simmons,
Had seen one a few years ago at Anvil Point, just off the coast between Swanage and Lulworth. To change the mantle it was lifted up with a complete harness (between guides), hooked at a higher level and slid out. Fortunately, even with that great intensity of light and heat, mantles do not have to be changed often, for the harness was a substantial affair. Colonel Simmons went on to say that the police formerly used incandescent lamps for road work but had gone over to the revolving electric lamp. Railway gangers at night still use the incandescent paraffin lamp, and. put them along the line when they are doing track repairs. It still forms part of the kit of the R.A.C. and A.A. motor cyclist.

Mr. Rex Wailles,
Said that Mr. Ramsey hadn't emphasised the good light as compared with even modem electric lighting, certainly until the fluorescent tube came in. During the war his wife and children were up in N.W. Scotland where there is no electricicy. They used a Tilley lamp and the light there was very much better for all fine work than we had in London before the war. He also came across a case in Finland where for sewing a Tilley pressure lamp was used in preference although electric light was available.

Mr. N. D. New,
Instanced the present day use on a horse-drawn narrow boat of three Tilley lamps. Could not the incandescent type of Aladdin lamp be made in such a manner that it would be sufficiently robust to be used as a lantern ? Mr. New also commented that butane, generally sold in Britain as "Calor Gas" was used in some lamps in place of paraffin, though it was five times as dear, and not always available in the remoter places frequented by yachtsmen.

Mr. Ronald H. Clark,
Had used a lamp almost identical with that shown in Fig. 14 to inspect a locomotive boiler fire box. With an electric torch a fine crack in a fire box cannot be seen: with an Aladdin lamp it can, even on the earlier makes. Boiler makers prefer them; the next best thing is a candle.

Mr. M. L. H. Standen,
Said that in the sailing fraternity the great modem thing was calor-gas-lit incandescent lamps and the Post Office, at holes in the road, were using propane in internal combustion engines driving pumps.  Presumably they are using it for lighting as well.

Mr. R. J. Law,
Said he had a written contribution from M. Charles Dollfus, a Member in Parts, which he read.
M. Dollfus wrote: "The first idea of the Argand lamp, with a cylindrical wick, and double current of air, belongs to Joseph Montgolfier, inventor of the aerostat and of the hydraulic ram. Being a close friend of Argand, Montgolfier drew his attention to the principle, which Argand developed and on wich he actually made his first lamps, adding the important improvement of the glass chimney.
The later discussions between Argand and his partners or competitors, Lange and Quinquet are well known. Against all justice, Quinquet gave his name to Argand’s lamps.

In the steady improvements between 1785 and 1836, Mr. Ramsey does not mention one of the most important, the mecahnical lamp of Guillaume Carcel (of Paris), patented on 24 Octobcr 1800; an oil-pump with clock-work to raise the fuel to the wick- and burner. From the beginning this invention was perfect; it dispensed with the side-tank, the fuel being stocked in the foot of the lamp. Houghton's lamp is a later device.

The first idea of using shale oil for lighting belongs to Selligug, the owner of a gasworks in Paris, where was made a mixture of oxide of carbon and gas from distilled shale, one of the precursors of water-gas. In about 1850 Selligue made the first lamps burning shale oil; the oil raised by capillarity in the wick to the burner of the Argand double-draught type. The air came to the burner by a circular perforrated. In another type of lamp, the air came through the bass of the lamp up a pipe in the tank.

In the sixties, the petrol (in French petrole, in English paraffin) lamps, with metal, porcelain or crystal bodie, came into use.  The wick was generally a flat one, which was raised or lowered by a toothed wheel controlled by a key.

About 1865, M. Boital (of Paris) developed a petrol lamp in which the flat wick was converted into a cylindrical one by a special guide before it reached the burner. M. Boital, instead of using, as others had done, a glass chimney enlarged at the flame level, used chinmeys of restricted diameter around the flame to increase the air-draught so, by better combustion, avoiding smoke and smell.

Another improvement, of about the same time, was the 'lamp without liquid,' invented by Mille and popularly developed by Pigeon, who left his name to the 'lampe Pigeon'.  A small metal body was filled with a sponge which was impregnated by gasoline. A round small wick plunged through a pipe in the sponge and out of the body through a narrow pipe used as a burner.  These very cheap but convenient lamps have been used for more than a century up to the present day, with no improvents.

Mr. C. E. LEE,
Commenting on the use of the word "petrol" in the French sense recalled that when he was a small boy his father was concerned with supplying certain commodities.  One of his customers ordered a supply of  “petrol” for a country house. At that time the word petrol was already coming into use, although he thought he was right in saying that it was a protected word of the firm of Carless, Capel and Leonard. Just before the petrol was despatched to this country house his father spotted that the resident bore a French name and his people were presumably ordering  petrole in French for their paraffin lamps. So, no doubt, a tragedy was averted.
A comment was made that Carless, Capel and Leonard did invent the word petrol but they did not immediately protect it. By the time they tried to do so it had become the only name for the liquid used universally in cars.

Mr. Ramsey,
Said he was not unaware of the instances mentioned by M. Dollfus, but had been under strict limitations of space.  He was quite prepared to believe that Montgolfier did invent that burner, but at that period persons not resident in this country could not apply for patents. Argand, although he was Swiss, did live here for many years, and was quite in order in applying for a patent, and the burner has retained his name.

Mr. J. W. Butler,
In proposing a vote of thanks recalled that on page 4 Mr. Ramsey talked of Young and paraffin oil. Was 1855 the first occasion when the name paraffin was given to that substance?  He was also surprised to hear that the incandescent mantle, devised by Welsbach in 1885, appears to have gone on for seventy or eighty years without appreciable alteration. One might have expected that such a fragile contraption could have been improved by applying some of the
 newer chemical, substances that had came to light in the interval.  Mr. Butler confessed that he found himself speculating about the manufacturing difficulties which must have been encountered as the efficiency of combustion improved, temperatures- rose, and the need to resist heat for considerable lengths of time increased.  What he remembered so clearly about these early lamps was the way in which the deep-drawn parts of brass components suffered from fatigue cracking. Could Mr. Ramsey say where the Aladdin Company first started manufacturing in this country.

Mr. Ramsey,
Said the company, during the late 1920s, imported components from America and assembled them here.  Then they began to have some components made by outside contractors.  Once the building on Western Avenue at Greenford was finished, about 1931 or 1932, they manufactured practically everything there except of course the chimney.-, which he believed were made originally by Chance & Co. Mr Ramsey didn't know who made them today.

Mr. J. G. B. HILLS,
Contributed by correspondence as follows:
Further to my remarks in the discussion of your paper, "The Origin and Development of the Incandescent Pirnflin Lamp," the evidence for the Bude Light having been actually made is that it was a topical allusion in Early Victorian times. The Rev. R. H. Barham (Thomas Ingoldsby), 1788-1845, used the phrase "the finest  Bude light" in a semi-humorous poem "The Lay of St. Odille" which originally appcired in Bentley's Miscellany, c. 1837~38.  My text of this work is unfortunately an undatcd cheap edition of Ingoldsby Legends in which all Barham's verse from Bentley's Miscellany is reprinted without dates.

Canadians may dispute that illuminating oil was first produced in quantity in Pensylvannia.
James, Miller Williams had productive wells and built a refinery in 1857 at Oil Springs, Lambton County, Ontario.  In 1858-60 he is said to have refined 350,000 gallons of crude oil mainly at a larger refinary built in 1858 at Hamilton, Ontario. (Ford and McPherson, A History of the Chemical Industry in Lambton County, Dow Chemical of Canada Ltd. (1964) 3-7).

There was a third London Livery Company concerned with illumination, the Homer's Company, who made "Lanthorns" among other horn articles.  These were, however, probably candle lanterns as used by the old night watchmen.

Mr. RAMSEY replied thus to Mr. Hills:

1. My copy of the Ingoldsby Legents is also undated but I question whether the poem containing the reference to the Bude Light could have been published as early as 1837 or 1838.  The relevant Patent is that granted under No. 8098 of 1839 to Gurney & Rixon. This information I obtained from the Search Guide to the Patent Office Library published in 1901 but no information other than the Patent number and the inventors name is given.

2. The oxygen supply for the Bude Light.  I have re-read the specification and the only information given
“ any suitable apparatus for obtaining pure oxygen, or from a reservoir containing the same." what is meant by the "reservoir" must remain a matter of conjecture.

3. The information concerning the supply of lamp oil from Pennsylvania was obtained, as stated in my paper, from Thorpe's Dictionary of Applied Chemistry which is a standard work and does not refer to Canada as an early source of supply.  Professor Lewis in his book Oil Fuel also quoted in my paper, and written in 1913 says that "many oil deposits in Canada are only waiting to be opened up." He also says of the canadian wells that they are comparatively shallow and the oil contaminated with sulphur. In the production tables for 1912, the Canadian production is omitted altogether.

4. Livery Companies. I am a 1iveryman of the Farriers Company and of course made thorough enquiries before making the referenece to the Wax Chandlers and the Tallow Chandlers. I amsatisfied that the Horners never made oillamps, although no doubt they supplied the translucent horn panels used in candle 1anterns.

The Origin ...

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