© Arto Hanciogullari und T. Tsekyi Thür

Other Lamps

There is still a whole list of other fuel liquids and gases which, in addition to the thousand-year-old oil lamp and the kerosene/paraffin lamp that began to triumph in the second half of the 19th century, made other types of lamps possible. An exhaustive listing and description of these lamps would go beyond the scope and purpose of this website, so I will only be very brief, not encyclopaedically precise, but just to show the difference to kerosene/paraffin lamps better and more understandable for the layman.


Lamps with Liquid Fuel

The most important group consists of lamps that look somewhat similar to an oil lamp but burn a liquid other than vegetable oil or kerosene/paraffin. These are "burning fluid", ligroin and petrol lamps, which, as their name openly indicates, burn burning fluid (a burning liquid as a mixture of 4 parts turpentine oil and one part alcohol; very flammable), ligroin (heavy petrol with a boiling point of 80-120°C, a distillate of crude oil) and petrol/gasoline (also a distillate of crude oil; somewhat lighter than ligroin, boiling point 50-120°C). Ligroin lamps in particular, and to a much greater extent petrol/gasoline lamps („lampe à essence“), were used for a long time in France. The most famous representative of such lamps was the Pigeon lamp by Charles Pigeon, which was produced in large quantities for decades from 1884 (until almost the end of the 20th century) and found very many imitators.


Attention! Never use gasoline, spirit (that is ethanol or ethyl alcohol which has been "denaturised" with any additives) or other easily flammable liquids (e.g. white spirit, acetone, nitro thinner, to name a few liquids that are easy to find in today's hardware stores) as a fuel  in a kerosene/paraffin lamp!! The risk of explosion is far too great! So far, there have been deaths from such improper use of kerosene/paraffin lamps! The lamps that can burn such liquids have completely differently constructed burners in order to avoid or minimize the risk of explosion. Kerosene/paraffin lamp burners are completely unsuitable for such liquids.



Gas Lamps

The second important group are the gas lamps. As the name suggests, these lamps do not burn any liquid, but rather a combustible gas that is fed into the lamp from outside through some pipes. Since gases can burn on their own without any help, they also do not need burners with wicks. The gas flows into the air from a nozzle or slot of the burner and burns immediately as soon as it is lit. The height of the flame and thus the brightness was adjusted by regulating the amount of gas flowing out with the tap on the gas pipe. This also makes it clear: gas lamps are very easy to distinguish from kerosene lamps, since they necessarily have a tap. Gas lighting is almost as old as the invention of coal gas or town gas, which was previously produced from hard coal or other types of coal by heating it up without a supply of air and stored in huge containers ("gasometers"). The gas lamps, on the other hand, were only able to conquer the larger, urban buildings such as factories, train stations, hospitals, etc., because their infrastructure for private households was expensive and their risk of explosion was high. Only a few, wealthy households in large cities (especially in the USA and Great Britain) could afford to have the gas pipeline connected to their houses. The gas lamps have found the widest use in street lighting. Today there are still noteworthy quantities of "old-fashioned" street lamps, which are of course fed with natural gas instead of town gas and which are ignited by electrical impulses from a distant building by remote control.

Acetylene or carbide lamps also burn a gas, namely acetylene, but this is produced directly in the lamp in situ from solid calcium carbide by the action of water. Compared to conventional gas lamps, these lamps have the great advantage that they do not require any gas that has to be fed to the lamp from outside through pipes. This is why they were used in the first decades of the 20th century wherever a gas supply from the outside was not possible, e.g. underground in mines. They were also widely used as bicycle lamps.


Incandescent Lamps

A third group, the incandescent lamps, uses kerosene/paraffin or denatured alcohol, but the principle of light generation is different. A cotton fabric, called a mantle, treated with special metal compounds from the rare elements cerium and yttrium (formerly thorium), is suspended above the burner. In contrast to the conventional kerosene/paraffin burner, the burner is now designed in such a way that as much air as possible flows through and the kerosene/paraffin burns almost completely with a blue flame and high heat, which is only used to properly heat the metal compounds of the mantle. As soon as a certain temperature is reached, these compounds start to glow, yes, to radiate, with very bright light. This light is much brighter than from the conventional kerosene/paraffin burners. There are also incandescent lamps that use spirit or gas instead of kerosene/paraffin. The best-known representative of incandescent lamps is the Aladdin Lamp from Mantle Lamp Co. in the USA, which is still produced and marketed today.

A special category of the incandescent are the so-called high-pressure lamps, the fuel of which can be kerosene/paraffin, gasoline or spirit. In these lamps, the fuel liquid is converted into a gaseous state by preheating and this gas is released under pressure through fine nozzles in order to achieve even better brightness when burning. Combined with a mantle, these lamps produce the highest level of brightness that can be expected from a non-electric lamp. Today's Petromax® lamps (to name just one lamp; there are also other lamps that work on the same principle) belong to this category. A special feature of these lamps is that they emit a slight, hissing noise when they burn, which is caused by the gasification and flow of the fuel under pressure.

A technically sophisticated further development is the inverse (i.e. downward) suspension of the mantle in order to be able to spread the light downwards unhindered. This principle was used to develop large hanging lamps, some of which were fitted with several incandescent mantles. With their very bright light, these lamps were intended for large rooms, such as factory or railway station halls.


Examples of lamps and burners that do not burn classically with kerosene/paraffin (taken from various old lamp catalogues)
Top row, from left: Typical hand lamp for petrol/gasoline from France
A student lamp with gas supply (arrow shows the gas tap)
A carbide lamp (burning acetylene from calcium carbide)
A bicycle lamp (burning acetylene from calcium carbide)
Bottom row, from left: Incandescent burner for kerosene/paraffin (Kronos burner by Hugo Schneider)
Incandescent burner for spirit (Burner No. 2 by Hugo Schneider)
Incandescent burner for gas (Auer gas burner)
A Petromax® lamp (high-pressure lamp for kerosene/paraffin by Ehrich & Graetz)
A large, inverse high-pressure lamp for kerosene/paraffin (Petromax®, Ehrich & Graetz)


Today you can buy newly manufactured kerosene/paraffin lamps of the conventional type as well as with a mantle and with the high-pressure carburetor principle, because you either appreciate their nostalgic charisma, or you have an easy-to-transport lamp for outdoors where there is no electricity available.