Pressure Lamps International

The American Lighting Co (Chicago, Baltimore, Delaware, New York)

114 5th Avenue, New York USA (1897)
Chicago (1900) 112 (102) Michigan St (1902/3)_

 

There were at the very least four companies that used the name "American Lighting Co", one based in Baltimore, another in New York, one in Chicago and one in Delaware. It is not clear what, if any, relationships existed between them in the last years of the 19th century and first years of the 20th century, and of course they may well have all been independent branches of the same parent firm. From one newspaper report it appears that there was even confusion in one town over which company they were dealing with when discussing contracts for street lights. Mr Willard Saulsbury and Mr Eugene Newbold both represent the Baltimore company and are commenting on a bid received from the Delaware company.  Eugene Newbold later became President of the Baltimore company.

americanlightingTNJ20051902p5

The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, May 1902

 

At this period in time it was not unusual for someone to be a director of several firms, all running similar businesses, and in part that explains why there are common components appearing on different makes of lamp. For example David Calvin Imboden, born Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1855 held directorships with many businesses, including at least four lighting firms, The American Lighting Co of Chicago, The Standard Lamp Co, also of Chicago,  the Economy Gas Lamp Co of Kansas, and the Imboden-Snyder Mantle Co of Chicago. He was president of The American Lighting Co, and was possibly instrumental in starting the company some years before, as the US Federal Census for 1900 lists his occupation as "Lamp manufacturer".

It is in references to the Chicago company that we find mention of "The American Gas Lamp" and the 1000 cp "Arc Pressure Lamp", and then only for a very few years. The most lucrative side of the lighting industry in the USA at the turn of the century was without doubt the contracts for street lighting. City gas was not available everywhere, and were it was used the distribution network did not always extend to the city limits, so as well as short term contracts for supplying and maintaining gas lamps, there was a fortune to be made in erecting, maintaining, lighting and extinguishing gasoline fueled street lights in those parts of the towns where city gas did not reach. Against that background the development of portable gasoline lamps lagged a little behind, and as the years passed the successful firms seemed to concentrate more on the domestic market. Trawling through old newspaper reports and advertisements shows just how vital the street light contracts were, there were numerous court cases where contract holders were accused of some patent infringement, even to the extent of having to replace their newly installed lamps with the old ones just removed. Many of these maneuverings seem to be tactics aimed at impeding a competitors progress, and it is almost a certainty that some of the small companies were hit very hard. Gasoline was also a new fuel, either loved or hated, and there were very many deaths caused by exploding lamps, and many buildings destroyed by fire too. In fact some states had prohibited the use of gasoline for illumination purposes.

It also appears that there was a degree of incestuousness, everyone in the industry seemed to know everyone else. Companies closed down and new ones started up with the same key figures at the top. This idea is only conjecture, but it may well have been just like that.

The American Lighting Co may possibly have started off as The American Gas Lamp Co, incorporated in Illinois in August 1892, with J. P Ellicot, E Sprague, E T Gardner and George Daniels listed as incorporators. Shares were being sold in 1895, but after that date all sales of the American Gas Lamp were by The American Lighting Co.

One of the earliest advertisements for the American Lighting Co. comes from New York, a simple advert for workers, placed in "The World" newspaper in New York, 28th November 1897.

 

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Early advertisement for workers, "The World" New York, 1897

 

There seems to be little advertising 1898, but then the same notice appears  in papers across Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois probably other states as well. The Welsbach Light Co is clearly seeking to protect its  patent in a move quite typical of the times.

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 The Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 April 1899

What is likely to interest the collector of old lamps is detail about the products themselves. There are very few images in advertising at this time to help identify products, but the name "American Gas Lamp" crops up many times in advertising material. More often than not the adverts are trying to recruit agents and salesmen to look after specific territories, because this was a time when the USA was relatively thinly populated, and the best way of increasing sales was through hustlers, energetic salesmen that would work on commission targeting potential users in their own areas.

 

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The Des Moines Register 4 Nov 1900 p20

 

In 1901 a price comparison by the Exelsior Repair works in Fort Wayne describes the American Gas Lamp as an "air pressure lamp" and also refers to an 800cp American Arc Lamp, with running costs cheaper than electricity, acetylene, city gas or kerosene.

The American Lighting Co also advertised for agents for their Giant Corn Sheller during 1900 in Kansas newspapers. The Imboden family were well known in Kansas, and David C Imboden, who  had been heavily involved in grain production and distribution through his own company there, was now president of The American Lighting Company as well, so there may well be a substantial link with agricultural matters.

1901 saw adverts for open flame burners with agents wanted for gasoline lamps, no mantle or chimney. Several 1901 adverts mention The American Arc pressure lamp from the Chicago company, allegedly now with light output of 1000cp (earlier it was 800cp) but once again there are no pictures to show the product.

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The Topeka Daily Capitol 3 Feb 1901 p14  (there were 53 adverts altogether across E, W and Central USA)

 

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The American Lighting Co "Arc Lamp"

 

J H Brown was secretary in June1902 when The American Lighting Co was involved in a dispute in Wilmington, Delaware, and was prevented from proceeding with installations by an injunction raised by The Pennsylvania Globe Gas Light Co. There is a lengthy article in one newspaper in Jun 1902 describing what was a typical scenario in towns across America at the time.

In 1905 W. D. Murphy Jnr was a director of the Chicago company. He was also vice president of The Haschke Storage Battery Co and  a director of the Imboden-Snyder Mantle Co, ( David Imboden was president, treasurer and director of Imboden-Snyder, and was also vice president of The Standard Gas Lamp Co. The Chicago Directors list actually reports both men as president of The American Lighting Co, but this is perhaps an error, as David Imboden is reported elsewhere as being the president.

Sporadic references to The American Lighting Co continue to occur after 1905. In 1917, W J Davis is president, and The American Lighting Co is offering to illuminate the statues of Abraham Lincoln and General Grant in Chicago. They were certainly still trading in Chicago at the end of 1919, but there the story becomes obscure. After that time some adverts show that The American Lighting Co in Zanesville were selling electrical goods as late as 1923, and the Baltimore company were still involved with street lighting. All in all, history of the company is a bit of a mess, but it seems unlikely that any free standing pressure lamps were produced after this time.

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Advert from Chicago Tribune, 27 Aug 1919

Although these companies apparently continued trading it is generally believed that the American Gas Lamp and the American Arc lamp were only sold for a few years in the first decade of the new century, but references continue to crop up and the name American Gas Lamp seemed to live on in a different guise. The advert below was placed by Roscoe Ames Hardware in the Albany Democrat Herald on 8 December 1927. The lamp pictured appears to be a Coleman, but the reference to American Gas Lamp is rather curiously coincidental, and should not be misinterpreted. By now the term "gas lamp" had evolved to mean gasoline lamp, and the American Gas machine Co were using the term "American Lamp" in their adverts.

americanlightingADH08121927p14

 

Like many of the American lighting businesses, the American Lighting Co seems to have peaked around 1910, then faded away. A few old lamps still survive around the various collections, and it would be great if you could submit photos of your examples here. You can see a nice refurbishment project on an American Lighting Co Arc lamp reported on Classic Pressure Lamps.

 

References:

The World (New York)   28 November 1897 p45

 The Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 April 1899 p15

The Des Moines Register 4 Nov 1900 p20

The Topeka Daily Capitol 3 Feb 1901 p14

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette 10 December 1901 p2

The Boston Post 22 September 1901 p10

The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, 20 May 1902 p5

The Day Book (Chicago), Vol 6 12 April 1917, p3

The Times Recorder, 1 June 1923 p23

Chicago Tribune, 27 Aug 1919 p23

1905 Directory of Directors - Chicago

 

 

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