Pressure Lamps International

The Acorn Brass Mfg Co.

51 North Peoria Street, Chicago Ill (1909)
227 North Peoria Street, Chicago,(1910)
600 Acorn Building, Chicago (1915)
617 Uni-Lite Building, Chicago (1917)
121 Factory Building, Chicago (1917)
467 Acorn Building, Chicago (1923)
426 Clinton Street, Chicago
3218 and 3260 West Lake Street Chicago (1923)
967 Acer's Building, Chicago

 

The roots of Acorn Brass go back to 19th Century Glasgow, where William McLennan was a brass founder. William's daughter Margaret McLennan married an Englishman, James B. Knight, and together the family emigrated to Canada in 1884. James B Knight died in 1890, and the family moved to Chicago where the various family members worked and resided until moving on to warmer climates in the 20th century. Interestingly, William McLennan's grandson James Seaton Knight and his three brothers all started out working for Swift and Company in the Chicago stockyards, where they got their first jobs through their uncle James McLennan, an early electrical engineer who was responsible for wiring the Swift and Co. meatpacking plant.

 

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1902 Advert for the Doren System Light.

 

Acorn were certainly involved early on with hollow wire system lighting and with all kinds of other small products. They were also frequently advertising for Agents to sell their products.

 

 

James Seaton Knight

James Knight, around 1904

James Seaton Knight then went on to start the Acorn Brass Manufacturing Company, which was to become the shared business of the Knight family, and eventually produced soda fountains and other items for L. A. Becker and Company towards the end of the 19th century. Around 1900, Beckers set up their own factory in Chicago, and Acorn began to operate independently, at first producing the same kind of soda fountain equipment, then diversifying into miscellaneous products and also the lighting business. The company founder, James Seaton Knight, was ten years older than his little brother Stanley Hooper Knight. It is likely that some degree of "collaboration" existed in the lighting industry in Chicago, the heart of the American lighting industry at that time. It has been suggested that Acorn worked with (or possibly took over) Martin & Morehead who were selling arc lamps from their Washington Street premises at the time. At this time they also appeared to have spare capacity, as they advertised regularly for customers to make use of their factory.

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Advert that appeared for several years during and after 1909

 

Acorn Brass had no sales structure as such, and so started to use independent salesmen who worked on a commission only basis. Stanley and James Knight eventually left the family business and set up the Knight Light and Soda Fountain Company, also in Chicago, where they marketed lamps under the brand name "Sunray"

Acorn Brass were located at 426 Clinton Street, Chicago, and they made a range of pressurised fuel appliances including free standing lamps and lanterns, cookers, and hollow wire systems until they ceased trading in the mid 1920s. Acorn sold their products via independent salesmen, and through catalogue houses such as Sears Roebuck. In his book "Lanterns that lit our World: book 2" Tony Hobson notes that the Chicago Solar Light Company was also based at 426 Clinton Street. Acorn Brass were at some time in their history also based at 3218 West Lake Street, Chicago, and later in Aurora, Illinois.

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There is some disagreement (as always!) among collectors regarding the provenance of Acorn Brass products. From the evidence of old catalogues I am certain that they did manufacture their own products, at least in the earlier years. Many of their early lamps were elaborately embossed with the Acorn logo indicating they were a primary manufacturer, and their advertising literature quite clearly states "Manufactured by the Acorn Brass Manufacturing Co. (Chicago)" It is entirely possible that later agreements existed between Acorn and other makers, and that companies such as National Stamping provided entire lamps or perhaps components for resale. Photographs provided by Jamie Shafer (grandson to James Seaton Knight) show the Acorn Brass works in full production, and it is clear that they had considerable manufacturing capacity. Their claim in 1910 was to be the largest manufacturer of gasoline lighting apparatus in the world, but this is a time when many manufacturers were prone to exaggerate their status.

 

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James Seaton Knight on the left in January 1904, he would then be 29 years old.

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Acorn Staff, James Knight is the fifth man from the right in the double row in the back.

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This advert from Dec 1910 is shortly after the acrimonious break-up when the Doud brothers left Acorn

 

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1915 advert for the Uni-Lite lantern

 

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Advert from 1917 for the same Uni-Lite lantern

 

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Acorn 400 Table/Hanging lamp (gasoline)

In the following images taken from an Acorn catalogue, similarities with other manufacturers products can be seen. This is suggestive of interrelationships and possible "badge engineering", but in itself is not adequate evidence that the lamps were made by another company. It is also tempting to interpret the letters MW as a link to Montgomery Wards......

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Acorn No 2 MW - Liberty - 400CP gas lamp, with art-glass shade supported on metal frame

 

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Acorn No 52 MW - Wall Lamp

 

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Acorn No 54 MW Portable Chandelier

The Acorn Brass Manufacturing Company also produced traditional style lanterns, including the Uni-lite and the Uni-Arc, for sportsmen, campers, farmers and motorists. The Uni Arc was a more powerful lantern with a large tank, suitable for "circuses, streets, parks, fairs and chautauquas", and appears possibly to be the only Acorn lamp with an integral cleaning needle. The needle was operated by pulling a wire which hung down inside the globe and passed through a hole in the globe support plate, the top end of the wire was attached to a lever built into the generator underneath the burners.

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Acorn No 5 MW 400CP lantern

 

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Acorn Uni-Arc 600 CP gasoline lantern catalogue, and one belonging to Pat Martin

The Acorn Brass Manufacturing Company was apparently a prolific supplier of pressure fuel lamps and lanterns, for in addition to this range their catalogue shows many types of hanging lamp and hollow wire system lamps. The company did not survive the early years of the depression, and for this reason, Acorn lamps and lanterns in good working order are extremely rare. To complement the Uni-Lite lantern the company also manufactured and sold the "Uni-Hete" stove and fire grate conversion in the 1920's, the  "Duble-Heat" Electric Stove, the "Compacto Grill" and the "Acorn Self Heating Flat Iron", but they all fall outside the scope of this article.

 

References:

I am grateful to Stanley Knight and Jamie Shafer for sharing the Knight family history and photographs of the early Acorn Brass staff, and for allowing their publication here.

Other information comes from original Acorn catalogues.

Popular Mechanics Magazine March 1902 p138

Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1909 p121