Pressure Lamps International

Allen-Sparks Gas Light Co
Allen-Sparks Co

Grand Ledge, Michigan USA (1898-1907)
Lansing, Michigan, USA (1907-1925)

420-422 Michigan Avenue East and 408 Washington Avenue South , Lansing, Michigan, USA

 

The three key men in the "Allen-Sparks Gas Light Co" were M. B. Allen, M. F. Sparks, and R. Astley. The story begins in the small town of Grand Ledge, just west of Lansing in Michigan USA, in 1898 when M B Allen with his newly learned experience with gasoline began to experiment with various methods of lighting, eventually resulting in the "Little Giant Gas Lighting System", a hollow wire arrangement using gasoline as fuel. His very first production lamps were probably just burners and shades for natural gas, because gasoline was prohibited for lighting use in several US states. It can be presumed that they developed The Little Giant Gasoline Lighting system when the use of that fuel became widely accepted. Early adverts referred to the "Allen Light" after the founder. The next stage was when Sparks formed a partnership with Allen in 1903, then Astley joined them in 1904, and by 1905 the newly incorporated company were looking for salesmen for what they described as the "famous" gasoline lighting systems. These advertisements continued to be placed in various newspapers for many years, a common practice in the newly developing and huge commercial market in the USA.

allensparksDFP12111905p21

Advert from the Detroit Free Press, November 1905

 

So in the early part of the new century the company had expanded into hollow wire systems using gasoline, and were setting up territories in many of the eastern states, and also in Kansas. The address changed in mid 1906 to Lansing, although the base was probably still in Grand Ledge. At this time the brand names used included "Princess" and "The Allen Light."

 allensparksIN22111906

Advert from Indianapolis News November 1906 - unusual because it asks for experience with gasoline!

 

 By now Astley was the company secretary, and expansion continued into new territories, with the company still looking for agents to sell the hollow wire system lighting.

allensparksDFP03091907

Detroit Free Press, September 1907

 

The name "Little Giant" then appears in articles and adverts across Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Vermont during 1910. Some advertisements were for specific types of workmen, such as "buffer" and "plater" suggesting that components were made at their base and not imported as finished products. They also advertised spare capacity for copper and nickel plating, and from the records it is clear that they had a factory with a fully equipped machine shop. "The Giant Portable Stand Lamp" seems to be the first truly portable and self contained lamp made by Allen-Sparks, and adverts for this started to appear in the summer of 1911. Unfortunately nearly all advertisements at this time were text only, so although they provide important dating information they lack the visual confirmation of what exactly the product looked like.

allensparksLSJ11101911
Lansing State Journal advert from October 1911

 

One quite trivial but curious piece of detail is reported in the Lansing State Journal of 11 April 1911 that "Miss Edith Maier, stenographer for the Allen-Sparks Gas Light Co at Lansing, is home on several weeks vacation." The company was advertising repeatedly for a stenographer, (in the UK this would probably be called a shorthand typist) so one wonders what is really occurring here.

"The Astley Parlor Lamp" makes it's appearance at Christmas 1912 with a special discount. Once again, these particular adverts do not carry pictures, but one in a 1913 Lansing souvenir booklet does.

allensparksLSJ11121912p15

From the Lansing State Journal, December 1912

allensparksPSPFD1913p35From a Lansing publication, Police and Fire Dept Pictorial Souvenir, 1913

 

The year 1913 saw a peak in company advertising, with nearly a hundred adverts in total across North Carolina, Michigan and Kansas alone. Artwork started to appear as well a more descriptive terms. Mr Sparks retired in 1913, and the business then branched out into automotive products and electrics. This period also saw the first use of the name "The Allen-Sparks Co" for the automotive side of the business, although the earlier name lived on right until the end.

 allensparksLSJ20121913

From The Lansing State Journal, December 1913

 

At this time the company was still producing gas lamps., but lamps lit by electricity were becoming popular as well as their portable gasoline lamps. By the end of 1914 the company had two stores in Lansing, the new one at 408 Washington Avenue South.

allensparksLSJ18121914p18

Lansing State Journal advert from Dec 1914

 

It is at this time that emphasis seem to change for Allen-Sparks. Over the last two years they have advertised real estate and store rentals as well as lighting, and had also advertised and sold a few automobiles. Now they are taking a healthy interest in tyres, and the adverts for lamps seem to decline in number. Robert Astley had become the president of the automobile company some time before 1920, although it took a while for the name to change, and it seems rather odd for the Allen-Sparks Gas Light Co to be selling car tyres and other automobile accessories. Robert Astley in his later life was described as a"Real Estate Dealer", fitting well with the earlier evidence of dabbling in property management and sales.

allensparksLSJ12081914p4

Automobile tyre advert from August 1914

 

It appears that the two branches of business ran parallel to each other, and the annual clearing house sale for 1914 lists several Astley lamps as well as an electric version, while the automobile branch advertised Goodyear Tyres.

 

allensparksLSJ22121914p11

December 1914 Clearance advert, this was to be the last one!

Soon after this the company name was to change to "The Allen-Sparks Co", and  the address at 408 Washington Avenue South was described as the "Auto and Electric Supply store" but still operated by the Allen-Sparks Gas Light Co., now supplying dry cell batteries and the "Nancy Electric Lamp" as well. The following few years saw a sharp decline in the lighting side, and in 1925 the Allen-Sparks Co closed it's doors for the last time. Astley and Sparks both retired, and all assets were purchased by Mr E E Howey, who had joined Allen-Sparks way back in 1908 and risen to be a stockholder and one of the officers of the company. Howey's new store opened on September 19th 1925 with the main emphasis electrical products.

 howeyLSJ17091925p12

The end of Allen-Sparks - from the Lansing State Journal Sept 1925

Howey continued to refer to the Allen-Sparks Co in advertising material for at least the next three years, and that in itself is testament to the respect the old company must have had in the town of Lansing. The fact that some of their old lamps survived to light up a hundred years after they were made is testament to the quality of the product.

 

You can find some good pictures of Allen-Sparks lamps on various forums and collectors sites, especially the Coleman Collectors' Forum and Classic Pressure Lamps

 

References:

Detroit Free Press,

12 November 1905 p21

3 September 1907 p9

Indianapolis News

22 November 1906 p13

Lansing State Journal:

11 October 1911 p9

11 December 1912 p15

20 December 1913 p5

18 December 1914 p18

12 August 1914 p4

22 December 1914 p11

17 September 1925 p12

Wilkinson H. Pictorial Souvenir of the Police & Fire Departments, 1913 p35

 


 

 

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