Updated: Apr 9, 2020
First, can you guess what this object is? It was a recent donation to the museum collection, and one of our collections volunteer knew exactly what it was because her father grew up with them in his home.
If you guessed that this is an acetylene gas lamp fixture, you were right! When mounted, the fixture would be adorned with a glass hood.
This particular model was made by the J.B. Colt Company, which manufactured acetylene generators and companion lighting systems for residential and industrial customers. According to the “Sweet’s” Indexed Catalogue of Building Construction (1906), “the practicability of ‘Colt’ Acetylene is best attested by its thousands of users.”
Acetylene could be produced by exposing calcium carbide pellets to water. A large container would be buried in a home’s yard and connected to a network of pipes that fed the house with acetylene gas. Within the containers a steady drip of water ran over the pellets, thus generating the flammable gas. The light produced by burning acetylene was exceptionally bright, but consumers were of course at risk for explosions caused by gas leaks.
During the first half of the twentieth century carbide fed acetylene lighting was popular in rural homes where electrification was unavailable.