Pressure Lamps International

Albert Lea Gas Light Co

South Washington Ave / West Main Street, Albert Lea, Minnesota, USA

 ¬©AWMoore 20016

 

The town of Albert Lea in Minnesota was the scene of great excitement in 1885 when gas was discovered nearby. The first public burn took place on 8 August 1887, when a large crowd of people gathered to watch the gas ignited from a well that was was around 100 ft deep. The Albert Lea Gas Company were managers of the well,  and The Albert Lea Gas Machine Manufacturing Co was formed the following year. It is likely that relationships between the two were intricate and possibly intimately arranged. A key figure somewhat later on in the operations would be the Norwegian engineer Soren Swenson, inventor of the Swen Gas Machine which the manufacturing company produced. (Swenson was involved in several other occupations, and was later to be employed by the American gas Machine Co) How the gas was distributed and used over the next ten years is not clear, but It seems likely that the Albert Lea Gas Light Co was formed  to look after the installations and ancillaries such as mantles and glassware. It should be remembered that this is a time when kerosene, gasoline, ground-gas and the new electricity were all competing for top position in the lighting industry. This was also occurring at a time when the use of gasoline for lighting was actually prohibited in some American states because of the hazards involved.

 

 albertleaSPG21071896p5

Report from The St Paul Globe, July 1896

 

The generally held view is that The Albert Lea Gas Light Co started around 1910 with Swenson at the helm using his experience gained previously with the American Gas Machine Co, and foundered around 1914 when Swenson died and his assets were taken on by John Meighen and the Brite-Lite Co, which itself was bought out by AGM around 1920. At it's peak the firm had over 50 workmen at its Albert Lea factory, and about 20 salesmen who traveled  around the rural areas.

It is naturally probable that the onus locally was on the development of natural gas and possibly electricity, rather than gasoline for at least some of this period, but the expansion of The Albert Lea Gas Light Co suggests that they were selling and installing lights using other fuels. In June 1911 the Evening Times (Marshalltown) reports that a certain Mr J. A. Wiley "has resigned his position with the Ray Brothers and has gone on the road for the Albert Lea Gas Light Co" There are several other similar reports, although most seem to relate to the use of gas rather than gasoline. In Nov 1912 the Albert Lea Gas Light Co installed gas lights in the Farmers State Bank in Wing, and it is reported that their Mr J.J. Cahill, salesman for the Albert Lea Gas Light Co, was "favorably impressed with  the looks of the little town."

There is a report in the "Weekly Spectrum", a publication of the North Dakota Agricultural College, about the Third Annual Electrical and Industrial Show arranged by the Lyceum of Engineers. Albert Lea Gas Light Co demonstrated different types of light and also electrical appliances, while the American Gas Machine Co showed their lamps and irons.

albertleaWS27011914p1

Report from January 1914

 

There are also lots of reports listing globes and mantles supplied to town authorities, and in one case a single street lamp, but few examples of lamps or lanterns appear in any advertisements. But, as stated many times, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, and lamps in various collections seem to justify the idea that some free standing products did indeed come from Albert Lea Gas Light Co. Some such lamps bear a distinct resemblance to those of manufacturers such as the Gloria Light CO, and have an additional name plate soldered on, suggesting they may just be a badged example.

There are a few inconsistencies in the assumption that the name disappeared in 1914 because other records show that the Albert Lea Gas Light Co were apparently still trading in 1920. For example, the Clerk's Financial Statement of the Village of Grand Marais in Minnesota for year ending Feb 28th 1921 shows a payment of $18 for globes from the Albert Lea Gas Light Co. so the Brite-Lite name did not completely displace the older name.

 

albertleaCCNH03031921p2

Extract from a report on the Cook County News Herald, 3 March 1921

 

Finally, just to confuse things, here's another intriguing advert, this time from Denver, Colorado dated 1936, so did the name get resurrected, or was it just sleeping for all those years?

albertleaAD12061936

From The Aurora Democrat Vol 27 No 26, June 12, 1936

 

There are several websites and discussion forums where collectors have posted photographs, such as The Terry Marsh Lantern Gallery and Classic Pressure Lamps

 

 

References:

St Paul Globe, 21 July 1896, p5

Cook County News Herald, 3 March 1921 p2

The Albert Lea Tribune, Column: Illuminating Brite Lite

Aurora Democrat Vol 27 No 26, June 12 1936

Various other newspapers and magazines of the period

 Weekly Spectrum 27 Jan 1914 p1

 

 


 

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