Lighthouse Lights/Lamps and Rotation Methods

Nils Gustaf Dalén


Candles 1716 - 1720

The early lighthouses in America used candles made from tallow or beef fat. Candles were more effective than the wood or coal stoves previously used, candles were smoky and burned quickly. Some lightheepers used chandeliers to burn many candles and the addition of a reflector behind the candles improved their intensity. Still this was not very effective.


Category: Capillary Feed
Type: Rope Wick Single, Flat Wick Single, Flat Wick Duplex, Argand Single, Wick Mantle
Name: Pan, Compass, Bucket, Lamp, Duplex Lamp, Hains, Funck, Funck-Heap, Mantle
Date: 1760 - 1916

-- Some Examples --

Pan Lamp 1760 - 1855

♥Year of Origin: 1760 Pan
Year of Origin: Compass 1820

♥By the 1760s, a form of Spider Lamp known as the Pan Lamp replaced the other early oil lamps in some lighthouses. Pan Lamps came in several forms. There were circular and rectangular pans, and a donut shaped Pan Lamp was used in the early lightships. Pan Lamps with a circular form were also known as Compass Lamps.
♥The Pan Lamp solved the problem of a limited oil supply and could operate for twelve or more hours on one fill of oil. The Pan Lamp had multiple rope wicks. The number of wicks varied from two too as many as twenty-four, with eight to ten wicks being very common. The Pan Lamp produced more light than the other early oil lamps because individual large diameter wicks were placed nearly side by side across the surface of the metal pan, and the flames could all be seen at the same time. Its main drawbacks were its relatively low light output, its massive consumption of oil, and the smoke and fumes produced within the lantern room, which at times became almost intolerable.
♥Pan and Compass Lamps were used for a very long time. Compass Pan Lamps were the only style of lamp in use on American lightships until the mid 1850s.

Photo courtesy Project Gutenberg
♥Bucket Lamp 1760 - 1850

♥Year of Origin: 1780
♥The Bucket Lamp, another form of Spider Lamp, had been available for many years and began to be used in lighthouses in the latter part of the 1700s, mainly in the smaller lighthouses, beacon, and pier-head lights.
♥The Bucket Lamp was made of sheet metal and was cylindrical in shape, with two or four spouts protruding from its sides. Each spout carried a large diameter rope wick that extended down inside the body of the lamp into the oil. Below each spout was a similarly shaped drip catcher. The Bucket Lamp held up to an eight-quart oil supply and could operate for twelve or more hours on one fill of oil. Its main drawbacks were still the very poor light produced, the smoke and fumes, and the problem that some of the flames were hidden from view behind the bucket, when it was viewed from specific directions.
♥The use of Bucket Lamps lasted a long time and four were recorded as being in use in 1845, at the Cunningham Creek Beacon light in Ohio.

Common Wick Channel Lamp
1720 - 1760

RIGHT --Flat Wick Duplex
LEFT -- Flat Wick Single

Both Flat Wick and Flat Wick Duplex lamps are based on the principle of capillary attraction where the fuel is raised to the flame by the wick itself. In these lamps the fuel is stored below the burner and the fibers of the wick soak up the fuel and raise it from the fuel reservoir to the top of the wick through capillary action within the fibers. These lamps were used in the fourth-order and smaller lenses.
♥The addition of the second wick allowed a brighter flame and a flame that was larger in diameter. The larger diameter flame worked within the lens to produce a greater divergence of light to the mariner.

† Argand Lamp 1810 - 1910
♥LEFT --Funck-Heap Lamp
♥In the smaller lighthouses a lamp called the Funck-Heap lamp was introduced in 1892. It was a standard Argand lamp with a single one and one-eighth-inch diameter wick. There was a flamespreading button in the center of the flame that got red-hot and helped to keep the flame a constant size and shape. The feeding of the wick was accomplished by a screw thread on the wick carrying tube. The Funck-Heap lamp became the standard lamp used in all fourth-order lenses in the American Lighthouse Service and was refitted into all of the lighthouses using a fourth-order lens as quickly as it could be manufactured. The same design with slight variations in the flame spreader and chimney was developed for the fifth and sixth-order lamps.

RIGHT -- Print shows a lamp with glass chimney and circular, hollow wick designed by Ami Argand in 1784 that increased the amount of illumination. Illustration from Louis Figuier, Les Merveilles de la science, 1867-1869.
This media file is in the public domain in the United States

♥This image and info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description

Funck-Heap Capillary Lamp
This Funck-Heap 4th Order Lamp has been converted to use of kerosene.

Used with permission of Historic Naval Ships Association

Aladdin Wick Mantle Lamp

♥The Aladdin Company developed a lamp using a wick to feed a mantle. This lamp was supplied instead of an Incandescent Oil Vapor (I.O.V.) Lamp in the 4th through 6th orders of lenses. The lamp was also useful in the keeper’s dwelling.

Photo courtesy of Future Museum


Category: Clockwork Mechanical Pump
Type: Argand Double, Argand Triple, Argand Quadrouple
Name: Mechanical
Date: 1824- 1852

-- Example --

Sautter Mechanical Lamp

In 1852 Louis Sautter entered the lighthouse equipment business. The Sautter mechanical lamp continued to use the Carcel clockwork that had a double-piston-mechanical pump operated by clockwork, which forced excess oil through a tube to the wick, overflowing the wick and cooling the entire burner. Sautter improved the design of the Fresnel-Arago lamp burners to allow more air flow between the wicks

Photo courtesy of American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee --ALCC


Category: Escampement Mechanical Pump
Type: Argand Double, Argand Triple, Argand Quadrouple
Name: Mechanical
Date: 1845

-- Some Examples --


Category: Air Pressure
Type: Argand Double, Argand Triple
Name: Pneumatic
Date: 1899

-- Example --

The Heap Air-Pressure-Pneumatic Lamp

In 1899, David Heap began to study the significant maintenance problems with the hydraulic lamps then in use, and created the Air Pressure Lamp. This lamp used air pressure of 20 psi to push down on the kerosene and force it to flow to the lamp. The air pressure mechanism was very simple and very easy for the keeper to maintain. These lamps were first put into operation around 1900.

The image and info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description


Category: Incandescent Oil Vapor
Type : Mantle
Name: I.O.V
Date: 1904

-- Some Examples --

Copyright © 1997-2001 Malcolm S Macdonald and individual contributors as acknowledged.
Copyright © 2002-2008 Lighthouses of Australia Inc (LoA Inc) and individual contributors as acknowledged (Photo and drawing by Thomas Tag).
Permission to use, copy and distribute documents and related graphics available from this World Wide Web server ("Server") is granted, provided that:
above copyright info is displayed. (Photo and drawing by Thomas Tag)

•Luchaire Incandescent Oil Vapor Lamp I.O.V.
I.O.V. – The Incandescent Oil Vapor Lamp used air pressure and a fuel vaporizer tube where the kerosene was preheated into a fine gas vapor before it was ignited as a flame. This dramatically increased the oxygen at the flame and provided a brighter flame using less fuel. Later an improved burner was designed in which the gas vapor flame ignited a mantle made of silk impregnated with zirconia. The I.O.V. Lamp produced at least three times the light output of the Argand style lamps previously used. Two main styles of I.O.V. Lamps were used in America. They were the Chance Brothers I.O.V. Lamp and the Luchaire I.O.V. Lamp.


Category: Fluid Pressure
Type: Argand Single
Name: Hydrostatic
Date: 1840

-- Example --

Thilorier’s Hydrostatic Lamp

This lamp required the use of dissolved sulfate of zinc and a test instrument called an ‘Areometer’ to test the density of the dissolved sulfate of zinc. Thilorier used the zinc sulfate in solution as the heavy liquid, which flowed down a tube below the oil. The oil actually floated on the zinc sulfate and was forced up a tube to the burner and on to the wicks. Any excess oil that overflowed the burner was collected and returned to the top of the oil tank by an overflow and return tube. The hydrostatic lamp was used to replace the early unreliable, clockwork driven, mechanical lamps in fixed lights where a reliable fountain or hydraulic style lamp could not be used due to its fountain and piping producing unacceptable shadows within the lens.
The main drawback to the hydrostatic lamp was that it functioned based on the relatively minor difference in the density (specific gravity) of the zinc sulfate vs. that of the oil. If the density of the zinc sulfate solution was not exactly correct the oil would not flow at all or would flow much too quickly.

The image and info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description

Category: Gravity Feed – Fountain Lamps
Type: Argand Single, Argand Double, Argand Triple, Argand Quadrouple, Flat Wick Single
Name: Winslow Lewis, Lewis-Hemmenway, Lighthouse Board, Funck-Constant Level, Meade-Hydraulic, Franklin-Hydraulic, Funck-Hydraulic Float, Funck 8-Day Lantern, Heap 5-Day Lens Lantern, Heap 8-Day Lens Lantern
Date: 1812 - 1889

-- Some Examples --

Winslow Lewis Reflectors with Lamp and Lens
1812 - 1855

†Above images is from The Point Arena Lighthouse

Funck’s Hydraulic-Float Lamp
Year of Origin: 1869

A lamp where the fuel is held above the burner and is fed to the burner under the pressure of gravity where it overflows the wick(s). The fuel is initially placed in the lower reservoir and is then hand pumped to the upper reservoir

♥The image and info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description


Category: Spring Piston
Type: Argand Single
Name: Moderator
Date: 1836

-- Example --


♥LEFT -- Franchot’s spring operated Moderator Lamp

In 1836, Monsieur Franchot invented the Moderator lamp where a spiral spring operated piston made oil flow to the wicks through a constricted valve known as the moderator. These lamps were used in most fixed lenses in France, and in America when Fresnel lenses were first installed during the 1850s. However, they were not used in American lighthouses after about 1865. The machinery placed in the reservoir of the lamp was formed by a spiral spring attached to a lightweight piston. The piston was made from a sheet-iron disk, fitted with a leather washer, and connected to a tube, which fed the burner. A square rod with gear teeth was connected to the piston, which served to raise the piston and compress the spring. The lamp was wound by turning a key fixed at the top of the burner, which operated a pinion gear meshed with the teeth of the square rod. It was necessary to windup the lamp before it was first lit each night, and it was necessary to rewind it at the end of about four hours’ combustion. The piston, under pressure from the spring, pushed down on the oil, which forced it up the oil-feed tube to the moderator valve where it entered the base of the burner and fed the wick. Franchot’s moderator lamp was difficult to maintain because its spring drive was prone to getting stuck, its winding mechanism was easily jammed, and the moderator valve was difficult to properly maintain and provided only a very course fuel flow control.

♥This image and info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description


Category: Weighted Piston
Type: Argand Double, Triple, Quadruple
Name: Moderator
Date: 1845

-- Example --

Lepaute’s Moderator Lamp
Augustin Henry-Lepaute began to redesign the moderator lamp in the early 1840s. He replaced the drive spring with a much heavier piston and replaced the wind up gearing with a chain drive that allowed the heavy piston to be easily raised with a crank. The moderator valve was replaced with an easily adjusted needle valve that moved automatically as the piston was lowered. These changes significantly improved the reliability of Lepaute’s moderator lamp. However, the piston was still prone to become stuck and its leather seal wore out rather quickly. Most of the world’s lighthouses converted to this lamp starting ca. 1860. In this lamp the heavy piston pushed down on the oil only through its own weight and forced the oil up a tube on the side of the lamp body. The oil flowed up the tube into a chamber with a tiny hole located at the end toward the center of the lamp where the moderator needle was positioned. The moderator needle allowed a small and highly controlled flow of oil to pass into the burner at a steady rate.

This info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description


Category: Weighted Piston with Float
Type: Argand Double, Triple, Quadruple, Quintuple
Name: Funck-Moderator Float
Date: 1883

-- Example --

Funck Two, Five, and Three-Wick Moderator Lamps.

This image is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description


¹ Gas lamps

¹Early proposals to use coal gas at lighthouses did not meet with great success. A gasification plant at the site was usually impracticable, and most of the lights were too remote for a piped supply. However, acetylene gas, generated in situ from calcium carbide and water, came into use around the turn of the 20th century, and its use increased following the introduction of the dissolved acetylene process, which by dissolving the acetylene in acetone made it safe to compress for storage.

¹Acetylene gas as a lighthouse illuminant had a profound influence on the advancement of lighthouse technology, mainly through the work of Gustaf Dalén of Sweden, who pioneered its application between 1900 and 1910.

For short bio -- click image

Nils Gustaf Dalén, Swedish physicist and winner of the 1912 Nobel Prize for Physics.
This image is in Public Domain -- Photo taken by Atelier Jaeger?

Burned either as an open flame or mixed with air in an incandescent mantle, acetylene produced a light equal to that of oil. Its great advantage was that it could be readily controlled; thus, for the first time automatic unattended lights were possible.
¹Dalén devised many ingenious mechanisms and burners, operating from the pressure of the gas itself, to exploit the use of acetylene.
²In 1905 when the Pilotage Service needed a new apparatus which could both save the expensive acetylene gas in lighthouses and provide beacons of varying character, Dalén's experiments resulted in the flashing apparatus. It only uses one-tenth as much gas as its predecessor and the light signals can be varied. In 1907 he invented the ingenious sun valve which automatically switches on lighthouse beacons when darkness falls and switches them off at dawn, it causes a beacon to light automatically at dusk and extinguish itself at dawn, enabled lighthouses to function perfectly and unattended for periods of up to a year.
¹ The switch utilized the difference in heat-absorbing properties between a dull black surface and a highly polished one, producing a differential expansion arranged by suitable mechanical linkage to control the main gas valve. Most of the equipment he designed is still in general use today.
¹His invention of cylinder filled with a porous mass of asbestos and diatomaceous earth for storage of acetylene reduced considerably the hazards in handling this material . The acetylene system facilitated the establishment of many automatic unattended lighthouses in remote and inaccessible locations, normally requiring only an annual visit to replenish the storage cylinders and overhaul the mechanism. Liquefied petroleum gas, such as propane, has also found use as an illuminant, although both oil and gas lamps have largely been superseded by electricity.



Incandescent 1000 watt bulb.
Used with permission of Historic Naval Ships Association
•Incandescent Light Bulb


•Marine Beacons


Side view of a complete Vega VRB-25
lighthouse optical system.

LEFT -- This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Geotek at the wikipedia project.

RIGHT --This image or file is a work of a United States Coast Guard service personnel or employee, taken or made during the course of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

VLB-44 LED Marine Beacon

DCB-224 Aero Marine Beacon

♣Today aero-marine/marine beacons have replaced many of the traditional Fresnel lenses. These beacons use the automatic lamp changer and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some have a clear glass front and a large polishes reflector in back, while others use a thin plastic Fresnel lens in front. The intensity of these lights can reach into the millions of candlepower.


NOTE: With such technology as the Global Positioning System (GPS)
the Lighthouse can still be comforting to the mariner. It is
therefore hoped that they will continue to aid and
comfort mariners and that we also will continue
to enjoy the beauty and history of these
Marine aids of the past.


For more details and images about lights and lamps see
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description



† •Whale Oil 1720 - 1864
†•Lard Oil 1864 - 1884
†•Kerosene 1884 - 1955
†•Acetylene 1904 - 1980
†•Electricity 1898 - Now

This image is in Public domain
¹In 1782 a Swiss scientist, Aimé Argand, invented an oil lamp whose steady smokeless flame revolutionized lighthouse illumination. The basis of his invention was a circular wick with a glass chimney that ensured an adequate current of air up the center and the outside of the wick for even and proper combustion of the oil. Eventually, Argand lamps with as many as 10 concentric wicks were designed. These lamps originally burned fish oil, later vegetable oil, and by 1860 mineral oil. The Argand lamp became the principal lighthouse illuminant for more than 100 years.

Lamp with glass chimney

♣One Argand lamp produced the light of 7 candles. The development of the glass chimney was a significant improvement because it allowed for controlled ventilation of the flame, which produced a brighter and cleaner-burning light.

²WINSLOW LEWIS, a former ship captain from Wellfleet, Cape Cod, patented his version of the Argand Lamp on June 8, 1810 and sold his “reflecting and magnifying lantern” patent to United States Government just prior to the War of 1812.
The Lewis lamps were widely used in the lighthouses by 1815, but the lamps were inferior to the Argand lamps and not well constructed.

Image is from Alabama Lighthouse Association

In 1901 the Briton ARTHUR KITSON invented the vaporized oil burner, which was subsequently improved by David Hood of Trinity House and others. This burner utilized kerosene vaporized under pressure, mixed with air, and burned to heat an incandescent mantle. The effect of the vaporized oil burner was to increase by six times the power of former oil wick lights.

Lighthouse Lamp Identification - Lamps Used in America
Category Type Name Maker Wicks Year
Capillary Feed Rope Wick Single Pan Many 1-10 1760
Capillary Feed Rope Wick Single Compass Many 8 1820
Capillary Feed Rope Wick Single Bucket Many 2-4 1780
Capillary Feed Flat Wick Single Lamp Many 1 1780
Capillary Feed Flat Wick Duplex Duplex Lamp Many 2 1800
Capillary Feed Argand Single Hains Third District 1 1879
Capillary Feed Argand Single Funck Third District 1 1888
Capillary Feed Argand Single Funck-Heap Third District 1 1892
Capillary Feed Wick-Mantle Mantle Aladdin Mantle 1916
Clockwork Mechanical Pump Argand Triple Mechanical Fresnel-Arago 3 1824
Clockwork Mechanical Pump Argand Quadrouple Mechanical Fresnel-Arago 4 1823
Clockwork Mechanical Pump Argand Double Mechanical Sautter 2 1852
Clockwork Mechanical Pump Argand Triple Mechanical Sautter 3 1852
Clockwork Mechanical Pump Argand Quadrouple Mechanical Sautter 4 1852
Escapement Mechanical Pump Argand Double Mechanical Wagner 2 1845
Escapement Mechanical Pump Argand Triple Mechanical Wagner 3 1845
Escapement Mechanical Pump Argand Quadrouple Mechanical Wagner 4 1845
Air Pressure Argand Double Pneumatic Heap 2 1899
Air Pressure Argand Triple Pneumatic Heap 3 1899
Incandescent Oil Vapor Mantle I.O.V. Luchaire Mantle 1904
Incandescent Oil Vapor Mantle I.O.V. Chance Brothers Mantle 1904
Fluid Pressure Argand Single Hydrostatic Thilorier 1 1840
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Winslow Lewis Winslow Lewis 1 1812
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Lewis-Hemmenway Hemmenway 1 1834
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Lighthouse Board Third District 1 1860
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Funck-Constant Level Third District 1 1876
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Triple Meade-Hydraulic Third District 3 1853
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Quadrouple Meade-Hydraulic Third District 4 1853
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Franklin-Hydraulic Third District 1 1863
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Double Franklin-Hydraulic Third District 2 1863
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Funck-Hydraulic Float Third District 1 1869
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Double Funck-Hydraulic Float Third District 2 1869
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Triple Funck-Hydraulic Float Third District 3 1869
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Quadrouple Funck-Hydraulic Float Third District 4 1869
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Quintuple Funck-Hydraulic Float Third District 5 1869
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Flat Wick Single Funck 8-Day Lantern Third District 1 1885
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Heap 5-Day Lens Lantern Third District 1 1889
Gravity Feed - Fountain Lamps Argand Single Heap 8-Day Lens Lantern Third District 1 1889
Spring Piston Argand Single Moderator Franchot 1 1836
Weighted Piston Argand Double Moderator Henry-Lepaute 2 1845
Weighted Piston Argand Triple Moderator Henry-Lepaute 3 1845
Weighted Piston Argand Quadruple Moderator Henry-Lepaute 4 1845
Weighted Piston with Float Argand Double Funck-Moderator Float Third District 2 1883
Weighted Piston with Float Argand Triple Funck-Moderator Float Third District 3 1883
Weighted Piston with Float Argand Quadrouple Funck-Moderator Float Third District 4 1883
Weighted Piston with Float Argand Quintuple Funck-Moderator Float Third District 5 1883
Special Candle River Post Candle Lantern Third District and Post & Co. none 1885
Compressed Gas Acetylene Flasher - Regulator AGA none 1907

♥Above chart info is from
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description

Cutaway drawing of a lighthouse lantern room
click image for larger view

Cutaway drawing of a lighthouse lantern room from mid 1800s showing the Fresnel lens. Source says this was a lens of the 'largest size', made by M. Souter and exhibited at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1855. The cylindrical lens with 8 faces stood 10 feet high. A clockwork mechanism (M), driven by weight (P), slowly turns the entire lamp-lens assembly (A,B) on six rollers. This system, invented by Augustin-Jean Fresnel, scans the 8 beams from the lens around the whole horizon. The resulting regularly flashing light seen by mariners served to distinguish the lighthouse from stars or shore lights. Alterations: removed caption. Author Adolphe Ganot
Public domain - Published in USA before 1923.

-- click name to see exp. of mechanism --

•Chariot Wheels
•Ball Bearings
•Mercury Floats



•Electric Motors

†This info is from:
The Point Arena Lighthouse

¹This info info is from:
Encyclopedia Britannica

²This info is from:
New England Lighthouse Wallpaper Guide

♣This info is from:
Banaemer's Book of Florida Lighthouses
by Roger Bansemer

♥This info is from:
The ALCC American Lighthouse Lamp
Identification and Description



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