Irwin's Oil Lamp Patent Model

Grade Range: K-12
Resource Type(s): Artifacts
Date Posted: 3/28/2016

John H. Irwin received patent number 35,158 on May 6, 1862, of this design of a coil oil lamp. Irwin’s lamp was designed for coal oils and other similar hydrocarbons (such as kerosene) which volatilized at low temperatures and required an excess of oxygen to support illumination. The excess of oxygen was provided by the lamp’s large draft passage, which was divided into compartments to prevent stiff currents of air from blowing out the flame.

Coal oil originally emitted a smoky flame until it was refined into kerosene. This refinement allowed lamps to be used indoors. The bright and economical flame changed concepts of time, work, leisure activities, and consumption. Lighting systems shifted from candles, to whale and other oils, to coal gas—often all were used simultaneously. Improved lighting increased productivity as factory workers labored far into the night. Lit public spaces extended the hours spent in oyster houses, theatres, and museums, and provided shoppers better views of consumer goods.