Kerosene Lighting Revolution – A Brief History

Prior to the development of kerosene lighting, candles, whale oil and burning fluid (a volatile and dangerous mix of turpentine and alcohol) were the primary sources of lighting.

The introduction of kerosene offered a superior, efficient, cost effective lighting source which was also much safer to use.

Along with the new fuel came new designs of lamps. The adaptation of existing whale oil lamps was not very successful and they were soon replaced with specifically designed lamps, burners and chimneys.

In North America, this period also saw many companies flourish as they offered the public a wide range of lamps in many styles, sizes and designs.

Flat wick lamps

Very Early Oil Lamp Kerosene Lighting with Marble Base

Circa 1860s

EAPG Prism & Loop Oil Lamp Kerosene Lighting

Circa 1860s


Many of the early lamps from this period of kerosene lighting had marble bases with a brass stem, clear glass font and clear glass chimney.

Another variation seen in lamps of this era is an opaline glass base and stem. These were mostly white glass but blue, green, black and yellow were also seen.



 There were a huge variety of all glass lamps manufactured in USA and Canada. The majority were clear glass but other colours were also produced. The colours included amber, ruby, cranberry, amethyst and various shades of blue and green. Coloured glass lamps in particular are still extremely popular and highly collectable today.

Blue Glass Inverted Thumbprint with Fan Base Kerosene Lighting

Circa 1880s

Primrose Opalescent Glass Kerosene Lighting circa 1880-1900

Circa 1890s

Clear Glass Bullseye Fine Detail Stand Lamp

Circa 1890s

Green Glass Square Form Oil Lamp with Geometric Decoration

Circa 1880s

Princess Feather Tall Stand Oil Lamp with Matching Chimney

Circa 1880s

Blue Basketweave and Medallions Oil Lamp Kerosene Lighting

Circa 1880s

Emerald Green Glass Bullseye Fine Detail

Circa 1890s








Composite Lamps

Blue Flow Stem Composite Oil Lamp Kerosene Lamp

Circa 1870s

Urn Stem Composite Kerosene Lamp Oil Lamp

Circa 1870s

This term refers to a wide range of kerosene lamps that usually had a glass, spelter or Redware (pottery) stem section. The base was generally cast iron and the font could be any one of a vast number of designs.

Clear glass stems were reverse painted where the decoration was applied to the inside surface of the glass.

Hand painted opaque glass stems often featured wading birds or floral decorations.

Redware Stem Oil Lamps Kerosene Lighting

Circa 1870s

Redware (terracotta) stems are rarer now as the pottery and/or the painted decoration was not as resilient as glass. Some of these stems were moulded to look like tree trunks which added a new dimension.

Centre draught lamps

During the mid to late 1880s a completely new style of kerosene lighting burner was developed. The introduction of centre draught burners saw a huge step forward in the level of illumination that could be achieved.

Nickel Rayo Center Draft Oil Lamp

Nickel Rayo Circa 1905

Plume and Atwood Banquet Oil Lamp Kerosene Lighting

Circa 1895

In North America in particular, it also heralded a huge increase in the range, style and functionality of kerosene lighting. From practical and sturdy metal table lamps, to elaborate banquet lamps, ornate hanging lamps with dangling crystal prisms and highly decorated parlour lamps with their matching hand painted glass bases and shades.

It is interesting to note that since the mid twentieth century, the parlour lamps have become known as “Gone with the Wind” lamps due to their use as props in the movie of the same name. This is historically incorrect as the movie was set in the American civil war but these oil lamps were not invented until well after the war ended.


Mantle lamps

Early into the twentieth century, the last major breakthrough in kerosene lighting occurred with the development of mantle lamps.

The draught arrangement on these burners was so efficient that it produced a purely blue flame. When coupled with an incandescent mantle, it produced a light equivalent to 50 candle power which was 4 times as much light for the same amount of fuel as a flat wick lamp used. Most remarkable of all, this was achieved without the need to pressurise the kerosene.

These lamps became the primary lighting source for millions of people and only went out of widespread use with the arrival of electricity.

Aladdin Model 11 Kerosene Lamp

Model 11

Australian Aladdin Bakelite Personal Oil Lamp Kerosene Lamp

Model 1609

The biggest and most well known producer of these lamps was the Aladdin Mantle Company. Since its beginnings in 1908, Aladdin has produced more than 20 models of metal lamps. Between 1932 and 1953 they also manufactured 18 models of glass table lamps which were generally offered in at least 3 different colours. Wall bracket lamps, caboose lamps, floor lamps and hanging lamps were also available to correspond with many models.

In the early 20th century, Aladdin developed a large export market in Britain and Australia which resulted in factories being built in both locations. This saw some new designs produced that were unique to the country of origin.

 Today, Aladdin lamps are still being produced in the USA by Aladdin Industries LLC and exported worldwide.

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