Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grease Lamp

Imagine how much we depend upon lighting in today’s world. We can go to any room in our house flip a switch and in an instant the room is illuminated. We have lights on our cars and on street corners. We have light on kitchen appliances and even power tools. We can go and do what we want when we want no matter how dark it is.

Imagine what life was like two hundred or more years ago. People’s daily routine revolved around the rising and setting of the sun. When night fell most all work stopped and the only light would be that of the fire or from candles or a grease lamp. Candles in the 18th and early 19th century were made from bees wax as paraffin candles were not yet invented. Living far removed from cities most frontier people would use other sources for light due to availability and cost of bees wax.

Animal fat on the other hand would be an item most frontier people would have. When animals were butchered their fat was saved and used for a variety of things besides eating. The fat could be used for soap making or burning in a grease lamp. The fat would be heated and rendered down into a substance called tallow. Tallow could be formed into a stick like a candle. A much easier method would be to place it in a grease lamp and burn it.

The grease lamp shown here is one I forged out of a flat bar of mild steel. Grease lamps are easy to make out of scrap and don’t require many tools. A person living on the frontier could have many of these at low cost. They don’t have to be fancy like the more refined Betty lamps they just have to hold a wick and rendered animal fat.

Grease lamps can be messy but they are a simple and reliable light source. You will notice there's a pick attach to the hanger of the lamp. It is used for adjusting the height of the wick. They do smell like what they burn so your place might smell like a steak house. I use beef tallow and olive oil in mine and it burns great.


Le Loup said...

They also made tallow candles, but they don't last as long as beeswax & tend to droop in the summer!
We lived for 20 years or so without power, our lighting was grease lamps & candles.
Good post, thank you. I will add this link on my blog.
Regards, Le Loup.

Gorges Smythe said...

Hmmm....if they smell like what they burn, I guess you'd only want to burn the fat from road-killed possums outdoors and downwind!

Frontier Carpenter said...

Le Loup, Thanks for the info. By the way I enjoy your videos on You Tube.