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The Springfield Gas Machine

Illuminating Industry and Leisure, 1860s–1920s

Donald W. Linebaugh

Publication Year: 2012

Developed just after the close of the Civil War, the Springfield Gas Machine was a unique commercial and domestic gas lighting system marketed for use in homes and businesses outside of a city’s gas works. The self-contained unit was perfectly suited to accommodate an expanding rural and suburban U.S. landscape as middle- and upper-class American families were looking to find simplicity in the countryside without losing any modern comforts of the city. Industries, too, were looking for a means to operate more efficiently and implement longer work hours for various production operations. Perhaps more important, owners of the Springfield system could retain control of their light production during a time when corporations were reaping large benefits from their monopolistic hold over municipal gas works. In addition to detailing preserved Springfield systems across the country, Donald W. Linebaugh uses newspapers and magazine articles, advertisements, patents, and even mail-order catalogs to tell the story of this one-of-a-kind unit. The Gilbert and Barker Manufacturing Company's innovative business plan established them as a leader in the manufacture of gas lighting devices. By taking gasoline from an oft-discarded byproduct of refining crude oil to a viable fuel source, the company paved the way for other gas-powered appliances to improve household management strategies and industrial production. In capturing the pre-automobile market for gasoline, Gilbert and Barker attracted the attention of the Standard Oil Trust, presaging the oil-industry dominance over gasoline production that continues today. The story of the Springfield gas machine ends in the early twentieth century as the advent of electricity proved more available to the masses with considerably less expense. However, gas lighting was, for its time, a major innovation in domestic and commercial lighting, and it changed daily life and social behaviors in the late nineteenth century as the comforts of home became a reality for suburban and rural Americans.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

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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pp. xvii-xxvi

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...

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Chapter 1: Lighting in America: From Rush Lamps to Gasoliers

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pp. 1-30

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...

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Chapter 2: The Gilbert and Barker Manufacturing Company

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pp. 31-62

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,...

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Chapter 3: The Springfield Gas Machine

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pp. 63-108

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....

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Chapter 4: A Bright Light for the Home: Domestic Lighting with the Springfield Gas Machine

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pp. 109-174

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...

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Chapter 5: Extending the Day: Commercial and Institutional Springfield Systems

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pp. 175-240

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...

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Chapter 6: Gas Lighting Gives Way to Electricity

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pp. 241-258

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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pp. 259-298


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pp. 299-314


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pp. 315-335

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781572338357
E-ISBN-10: 1572338350
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572334915
Print-ISBN-10: 1572334916

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 47 line drawings, 30 photographs
Publication Year: 2012