History of Lantern Lights
Mankind's earliest sources of light depended on what was available as it evolved over the years. When ancient men were living in caves, a form of light source was to burn handfuls of moss, soaked in animal fat, in hallowed out rocks; ancient African societies burned oily nuts in clay saucers for light. During the Iron Age and days of King David, the Canaanite Oil Lamp saucer lamp was used from 1500 BC to 600 BC. Documentation of terra-cotta Herodian oil lamps from 50 BC to AD 50 showed it was used during the ministry of Jesus. Until the 1700s, oil lamps, or oil lanterns, and candles were the only source of light until petroleum was developed. After that, not only did the kerosene lamp, or kerosene lantern, light up an area more, but lasted longer than earlier light sources. All during history, the trial-and-error of developing efficient light sources have been a goal of humanity, with many markets still available for these historical lighting sources.
The non-electric lanterns used for light were discovered thousands of years ago, and are still used today in the form of candle lanterns
, oil pots, kerosene lanterns, or oil lamps. The oil lantern was developed as an alternative to candles and is considered a historical forerunner to modern day electricity. Used for homes, temples and public buildings, these early lanterns are considered the oldest industries of mankind.
Early lantern wicks were located in an encased form of many types, dipped in a combustion material such as oil or kerosene that would light up when lit to form light. Many types of wicks showed the age of each early lanterns – papyrus, ordinary rush, linen, and flax. But always the lanterns’ developments were connected to a strong need for more efficient sources of lighting. Striving to improve on the candle lanterns and oil lamps which emitted lots of smoke and fumes, mankind also worked on a product that would put out more light. Because of this, oil lamps and kerosene lanterns were developed.Ancient Roman Lanterns
Around 509 B.C., the Roman Civilization was established with its basic units consisting of the family. Roman households produced Roman lanterns which could be filled with olive oil on lanterns designed with Roman motifs on the lamp bodies. The design of winged-Cupids playing a flute while riding a dolphin was part of the original Roman lamps later found in Fishbourne, England. (Reproduction Ancient Roman Lamps - Early Rome) Made of terracotta and fueled by olive oil, the Roman lanterns were used for artificial lighting in homes, funerals and ceremonial purposes, considered a main light source for many years.Whale Oil Lanterns
The first human use of whale oil was in oil lamps and for candle wax. Whale oil was considered a liquid wax, even though it was not true oil in the normal sense. It had the advantages of a clear honey golden color and an ability to flow easily. Over time it was found that whale oil from the sperm whale burned brighter and much less odor than of the right whale oil.
One large whale was able to produce three tons of whale tallow from which the whale oil was processed. The whale oil and blubber was originally used by the aboriginal people of the Northwestern Pacific, considered the first animal product to be used commercially that was easily affordable to the masses. (Whale Oil, 2004)Candle Lanterns and Paper Lanterns
Both paper lanterns
and candle lanterns
are known to throw off a very dim light during the evening or night time, with paper lanterns made from rice paper, paper bags, collapsible bamboo, metal hoops covered in paper, or bamboo sticks with a candle inside. The candle lanterns were made from a metal box or a round cylinder with glass panels, with a fitted candle inside. The top of the box has small opening or ventilated cover to allow the candle's flame to remain lit. Both types of lanterns are known to be designed with geometric shapes and go back a long ways in history. Ancient Chinese were known to capture fireflies in transparent containers for use as lanterns for a short time.
The candle lantern
was seen as far back as ancient Asia, with the Asian pagoda candle lantern considered one of the most sacred objects in Asia. The pagoda was built as part of the Buddhist temple or monastery, a place to worship or as a shrine for holy objects. (Pagoda Lanterns, 2010) Inside the pagoda was a candle or votive while the pagoda was made of rice paper about 18" by 11".Paper lanterns
are part of American history and seen in many styles and forms. Early farmers used paper lanterns when checking cattle at night or tavern owners would use them to greet travelers when coaches would pull up at late hours. Soldiers in the Civil War had nothing but candle lanterns to use, designed specifically so the wind would not blow out the candle light when the men were in the open. (The History of the Candle Lantern) Light at its best was still in the primitive form by the end of the 17th century, but paper lanterns were considered a mainstay for society at this time.
Decorative paper lanterns
are traditionally used for cultural celebrations and festivals such the Chinese New year. Today, paper lanterns are used for almost every occasion, from weddings to parties, as paper lanterns now come in almost every imaginable colors, shapes, and sizes.Development of Kerosene
The first kerosene lantern was designed in the 9th century in Baghdad, with the wick lantern and pressure lantern coming out of this discovery. In the United States and Europe, the early days of history showed the majority of people living in small farms or in small towns outside of the larger cities, using candle lanterns, paper lanterns or oil lanterns as their main light source.
The 1846 invention of the kerosene lantern by Abraham Gesner was a huge improvement on lighting as compared to the days when "Indians of the Northwest natives caught and dried oolakan or candlefish, and used them as lamps stuck into a lump of clay, or carried them around in the fork of a stick." (Exposition, 1904) A native of Nova Scotia, Gesner was trained as a medical doctor but was considered one of the primary founders of the petroleum industry when he immigrated to the United States. He had developed and patented a process for manufacturing kerosene, which would lead to the development of the kerosene lamp.
By the time 1860 arrived, the development of kerosene lanterns had improved on the light quality that had been used for hundreds of years. John D. Rockefeller was the first American to consolidate petroleum refining which made kerosene available for everybody in society instead of oil, even though he was considered as "one of the bad boys of late Victorian capitalism." (Bock, 2003)
The road from terracotta clay pots filled with olive oil to kerosene lanterns that are still used today was a long one, but necessary to the eventual development of electricity. Yet when electricity and power goes out today because of storms or power outages, the first thing used is a kerosene lantern of some sort and candles, tools of yesterday for today.
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