A Heritage of Light

A Heritage of Light: Lamps and Lighting in the Early Canadian Home

LORIS S. RUSSELL
With a new foreword by Janet Holmes
Copyright Date: 1968
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttx55
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  • Book Info
    A Heritage of Light
    Book Description:

    A Heritage of Lightis of equal importance to collectors and historians in the United States and Canada. This newly reprinted edition of Russell's classic 1968 study has a new introduction by Janet Holmes.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7036-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    JANET HOLMES

    Loris S. Russell (1904–98) had a distinguished career as a geologist and paleontologist. Every summer his studies of geological formations, stratigraphy, and fossils from earlier geological eras took him with his wife, Grace, to explore the Badlands of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. He continued this work in his retirement until 1992. The result was over one hundred scientific papers and his bookDinosaur Hunting in Western Canada(1966). His discoveries about dinosaurs and early mammals from formations in Alberta and Saskatchewan are especially important, and he was the first to suggest that dinosaurs might have been warm-blooded. His scholarly...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    There are two reasons why a study of early Canadian lighting is appropriate at this time. First, the development of artificial lighting is an important part of our social history. Being a northern country, Canada has always been faced with the prospect of many hours of darkness during the winter months. Lamps and other lighting devices have had a special significance, although this fact has been little recognized by the chroniclers of the past. Newspapers and books made only passing reference to the subject, even when great changes were in progress; and if the contemporary writers saw little of the...

  5. CHAPTER I From splint to candle
    (pp. 11-34)

    Ever since man learned to make a campfire and then to set up a crude fireplace in his cave or hut, he has enjoyed the by-product of artificial light. The French and English settlers brought the hearth to Canada. In their homes along the St. Lawrence Valley, in the Maritimes, and along the shores of Lake Ontario, the fireplace was the domestic centre, the principal means of cooking and source of warmth. It also provided light, a yellow flickering light to be sure, but sufficient in a home where everyone worked hard from sunrise to sunset and went early to...

  6. CHAPTER II Lighting the lamp
    (pp. 35-48)

    Before the invention of the electric lamp, where there was light there always had to be fire. Part of the history of lighting, therefore, is the record of how the kindling of flame was made progressively easier. Of course the basic reason for making fire was to obtain heat for warmth and cooking. Once logs were burning in the hearth it was simple to light a candle, or a tobacco pipe, by means of a blazing splinter. But until the days of the friction match, the initial ignition was a tricky, arduous job. Fire was carefully conserved, and if by...

  7. CHAPTER III Grease in the pan
    (pp. 49-54)

    Tallow is one of the few natural fats or waxes that is solid enough at normal temperatures to support itself and so provide the material for candles. But there are many other animal and vegetable fats, liquid or semi-liquid, that will burn with a luminous flame when conducted through a wick. The simplest way to use them for lighting is to place them in a shallow container, add some fibre as a wick, and apply a flame. So we have the primitive lamp, which has been invented many times in human history. Palaeolithic man scooped a hollow in a sandstone...

  8. CHAPTER IV When whale oil was king
    (pp. 55-92)

    The lamp shown in figure 31 is burning whale oil. Compared with some whale-oil lamps it is of plain design, and might have been used in a kitchen or bedroom. The burner consists of two short wick tubes projecting through a metal disc, which is screwed into the collar of the font. Some whale-oil lamps were even simpler, while others were much more complicated in both body and burner, but for the first forty years of the nineteenth century, whale-oil lamps were the most sophisticated lighting device generally available.

    The great demand for whale oil as a lamp fuel was...

  9. CHAPTER V Those deadly burning fluids
    (pp. 93-110)

    As the price of whale oil rose in the mid-nineteenth century, a new kind of fuel gained popularity throughout North America. “Burning fluid” was a mixture of high-proof alcohol and redistilled turpentine. It was cheap and very fluid. The lamps that burned it were simple to make and operate. It produced a white, smokeless flame. But it was also one of the most dangerous lighting fuels ever to gain wide use. Hundreds of people were injured or killed in accidents involving it.

    A lamp burning the modern equivalent of burning fluid, a ten to one mixture of 95 per cent...

  10. CHAPTER VI Lard becomes respectable
    (pp. 111-130)

    “Lard,” wrote Mrs. Traill in 1862, “is now used as a substitute for oil in parlour lamps.”¹ The “now” extended over the period from about 1840 to the early 1860s. This is much the same period as that during which burning fluid was popular, but the two fuels represent extreme opposites. One is very fluid, the other viscid to solid. Burning fluid is dangerous, lard is safe. Both fuels were cheap, but burning fluid had to be bought at a shop, whereas lard was produced on the farm, and this was probably the main reason for its popularity.

    The lamp...

  11. CHAPTER VII The coming of kerosene 1854 to 1860
    (pp. 131-152)

    In 1846 Dr. Abraham Gesner, a Nova Scotia physician and geologist, gave a public demonstration of a new process he had discovered. By heating coal in a retort he distilled from it a fairly clear, thin fluid which – as he showed his audience – made an excellent lamp fuel, burning with a bright yellow flame. By coincidence Gesner’s talk that evening took place in Charlottetown, p.e.i., where eighteen years later other talks would be the first move towards Canadian Confederation; Gesner’s demonstration was the beginning of a technological and social revolution as great in its way as the forthcoming...

  12. CHAPTER VIII Those new-fangled lamps 1861 to 1869
    (pp. 153-186)

    After the revolutionary kerosene inventions of the 1850s and the frenzy of the petroleum discoveries of 1859 and 1860, the 1860s may seem anticlimactic. It was a decade of consolidation. The oil fields of Pennsylvania and Ontario expanded, and with better techniques the wells went deeper and recovered more oil. Refineries grew not only more numerous, but better designed for economy of operation and quality of product.

    In the home the kerosene lamp gradually replaced other forms of lighting. First to go was burning fluid, although it was still being sold in 1866. Lard, readily available in rural areas where...

  13. CHAPTER IX Everybody used kerosene 1870 to 1885
    (pp. 187-230)

    The period dealt with in this chapter is a transitional one, and the need for continuity makes it necessary to overlap on occasion at either end. The beginning is marked by a gradual decrease in experimentation. The end is approximately the time when the incandescent electric light and the Welsbach gas mantle began to compete effectively with the kerosene lamp.

    The 1860s had been a time of great variety in the design of flat-wick burners. During the 1870s, in contrast, burners became limited to three basic forms. The flat-wick burner remained the most popular, but almost entirely restricted to the...

  14. CHAPTER X Swan song of the kerosene lamp 1886 to 1900
    (pp. 231-286)

    For at least the first twenty years of the present century kerosene illumination remained one of the main forms of domestic lighting, especially in rural areas to which electrical power distribution had not yet extended. But in cities and towns the day of the “coal-oil” lamp was over, except when the power failed, an event that occurred progressively less frequently. The last fifteen years of the nineteenth century saw the transition to this happy state from the days when kerosene was the almost universal illuminant. Competition from electricity and from the newly rejuvenated illuminating gas grew progressively greater. Kerosene lighting...

  15. CHAPTER XI Light the gas
    (pp. 287-304)

    All through the kerosene era, and for almost half a century before it, gas had been used for lighting. Its development as a practical illuminant began about the same time as the introduction of the scientifically designed oil lamp. Natural gas of course had long been known in various parts of the world where it seeped up from underground, and it had played a part in religious ceremonies. In 1799, however, artificially manufactured gas was offered to the world for the first time as an illuminating fuel. From then on, with some vicissitudes, the organization of facilities for providing gas...

  16. CHAPTER XII Thank you, Mr. Edison
    (pp. 305-316)

    Lighting by electricity began when Sir Humphrey Davy discovered in 1808 that an electric current could be made to cross a gap between two carbon points, and in so doing create an intense white light. The luminous path of the current was curved, hence the name “electric arc.” From Davy’s initial experiment the arc light developed. The composition of the carbon electrodes was improved, and electromechanical devices were designed to maintain the proper gap as the carbon was consumed. But for many years the only – though inefficient – source of the electric current was the chemical cell or battery....

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 317-318)

    The supremacy of electric lighting that could be foreseen in the 1890s became real in the twentieth century. Yet the conquest was not immediate. Kerosene fought a rear-guard action with the Aladdin lamp, in which the Welsbach mantle was combined with an Argand-type burner. The Coleman lamps burned vaporized kerosene or gasoline, and using a Welsbach mantle, gave a brilliant light. In the more remote parts of Canada the ordinary “coal-oil” lamp held out. The prairie farmer was in the kerosene age until the 1920s. First to breach his isolation was the Delco Light plant, which used a 32-volt generator...

  18. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 319-326)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 327-333)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 334-338)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 339-344)