The Springfield Gas Machine
Illuminating Industry and Leisure, 1860s–1920s
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: The University of Tennessee Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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The idea for this book grew out of a small contract research project with colleagues and fellow archaeologists Nancy O’Malley and Jay Stottman of the University of Kentucky. While conducting an archaeological survey at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Kentucky, we discovered a feature that appeared to be part of an early lighting system. Undergraduate student Jennie Duwan provided ...
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For most, if not all, twenty-first-century Americans, trips to the gas station to refuel their cars and trucks have become a regular part of their routines. Relatively cheap gasoline has driven the modern American economy and fueled a level of mobility and independence that Americans have taken for granted for almost one hundred years and appear unwilling to relinquish. So complete is the United...
Chapter 1: Lighting in America: From Rush Lamps to Gasoliers
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Lighting systems used in the United States from the colonial period to the present evolved from candles and rush lamps to various types of oil lamps (eventually including kerosene), to gas lighting systems, and finally to electricity. This evolution represents a range of important technical and social innovations. As researcher Richard Rhodes has written, “Along its growth trajectory, an innovation interacts with existing techniques, depends on the development of a mediating framework...
Chapter 2: The Gilbert and Barker Manufacturing Company
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The Springfield Gas Machine, a lighting system now almost wholly forgotten, was the product of the inventive minds of two remarkable men, Charles N. Gilbert and John F. Barker. In the years immediately following the American Civil War, each man became aware of the existence of portable or self-contained gas machines for lighting buildings beyond the reach of municipal gas systems and with the problems inherent in their current designs. Barker, a skilled machinist, designer,...
Chapter 3: The Springfield Gas Machine
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From the very beginning, the Springfield Gas Machine Company, later Gilbert and Barker Manufacturing, focused on providing customers, particularly those beyond the reach of city gas works, with good, safe, and relatively inexpensive gas light.1 This approach, combined with constant innovation and marketing savvy, ensured the company’s remarkable competitiveness and success over the years....
Chapter 4: A Bright Light for the Home: Domestic Lighting with the Springfield Gas Machine
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The Springfield Gas Machine, among the higher priced gas machine systems available to the public, nevertheless gained in popularity with the upper middle and upper classes, particularly for rural and suburban homes. In many ways, the company’s catalog listing of customers reads like a late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social register. According to the firm’s catalogs, Gilbert and Barker installed upward of twenty thousand Springfield systems in businesses...
Chapter 5: Extending the Day: Commercial and Institutional Springfield Systems
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The introduction of gas light in the early nineteenth century also dramatically altered commercial and institutional lighting. For the first half of the century, the use of gas light for commercial and institutional structures was largely restricted to urban areas with municipal gas works, which themselves were limited by infrastructure concerns such as the cost of laying gas mains. As early as 1813, inventor David Melville touted gas light for “the growing manufactories of our country, in...
Chapter 6: Gas Lighting Gives Way to Electricity
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The turn of the twentieth century saw the beginning of the end of “the age of the gaslight” as the gas lighting industry received its first real competition from electric light.1 As one electric company advertisement in a local newspaper declared, “A lamp that requires no oil to burn, no matches to light it, and does not smoke, is the kind to have.”2 Even with these advantages, however, electric lighting progressed...
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Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 47 line drawings, 30 photographs
Publication Year: 2012