The Care of Lamps ~ From Household Discoveries 1914

Mar 7, 2011 by

The following is an excerpt from one of my favorite “new” books, Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook from 1914. The book is a beautiful 744 pages of useful Household Discoveries and 280 pages of cook book goodness. The first printing was in 1909, and while some areas are severely outdated (douse your clothes in gasoline for cleaning, anyone?), many areas contain forgotten nuggets of golden knowledge.  I flipped the book at random today and selected the following brief section on the care of lamps. It seemed fitting with my recent post on acquiring a new Kerosene Lantern.

Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis's Cook Book from 1909 through 1914, a great survival resource for after TSHTF.After a societal collapse or other disaster event where we are back to simple living without electricity or other modern conveniences, this book becomes a valuable resource.  It has everything you’d ever need to know as a housewife in 1908, or indeed, as a house husband. Did you know there’s a proper method of sweeping rooms? Oh yes, there’s almost three pages devoted to that topic.  But it discusses how to butcher fresh meat, how to preserve it, can it, salt it, blanch it, cook it, store it… How to tan hides. How to clean a chimney. How to get stains out (more gasoline anyone?), and so much more. It even has an entire section on communicable disease, which my spouse, our medic, found highly entertaining. But for 1908, they weren’t far wrong.

For now, let’s look at the care of oil and gas lamps, directly as taken from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook.

The Care of Lamps

Pages 90 and 91 from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis's Cook Book on the Care of Oil and Gas LampsLamps smell and give poor light: first; because they are not kept clean; or secondly, the wick is poor or clogged by having been used too long; or thirdly, the chimney is wrong.
Trim, clean, and fill daily, and wipe the whole lamp.
Trip by rubbing the char off the wick; this leaves it even. Don’t cut it; you can’t cut it even.
Keep the holes in the floor of the burner clear for draught.
Don’t fill quite full; the oil expands with heat and runs over.
Boil the burner a few minutes once a month in sal soda or lye water.
Empty the fount occasionally for sediment.
Don’t open the lamp when hot; there is explosive vapor in it.
Light it with the wick turned low and turn up gradually, or you will get it too high and make smoke.
Move with care a lamp that has been burning long enough to get hot; or, better still, don’t move it.
Use the American Fletcher or Hyatt wick; and renew it every month or two, no matter how fresh it looks; it gets clogged and doesn’t feed freely.
Use oil of not less than 100 degrees flash for safety; the higher the flash the safer the oil.

Lamp Chimneys

Pages 92 and 93 from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis's Cookbook on Selecting Lamp Chimneys and What To Do If A Lamp Catches FireThe object of a lamp chimney is to supply the flame with exactly the amount of air it needs for perfect combustion, no more and no less, with an even draught on both sides of the flame; they must, of course, be clear and transparent. This calls for fit in the full meaning of the word and for clear glass that will stay clear. Thus there is something to know about chimneys beyond the mere size of the bottom. The ordinary notion of fit is a chimney that will stay on the lamp and not fall off. That is part of the fit. The rest is such a shape as to make the right draught for that particular lamp. It includes the seat, bulb, shaft, proportion, sizes in all parts, and length. Good chimneys that fit well give more light than common ones. This is due to perfection of shape and proportion and the right balance of draughts.

To Select Chimneys

Use the chimney recommended by the maker of the lamp, or write to a manufacturer of lamp chimneys for his catalogue and order according to directions.
If compelled to buy from stock, try one chimney after another, turning up the wick in each case till you get the most light it will give. When you have the right one, you can turn the wick higher and get more light than you can from others, in some cases perhaps twice as much. It pays to select chimneys with care for two reasons: one is, the right chimney gives more light; the other is, it lasts longer. Chimneys are usually made in three grades, of which it always pays to buy the best. Comparing bad chimneys with good ones, the breakage is ten to one, the light is half, and the price is half.

The Breaking of Chimneys

The Title Page to Household Discoveries and Mrs Curtis's Cook Book from 1914Chimneys break from misuse. A wrong number may break or melt; if the burner is foul, the glass may break; a gust of cold air on a hot chimney may break it; a gas chimney may break or melt from a hole in the mantle; the hole lets a jet of flame directly against the chimney, the explosion of lighting breaks the mantle, and the broken mantle breaks the chimney.
Whenever the chimney is touched by the flame it melts or breaks. Its shape prevents touching, unless through some misuse. In central-draught lamps the flame is between two draughts – the central and the outer one. When the burner is foul, this outer draught is partly stopped, and the flame gets pushed too near or against the chimney, and breaks or melts it.
Chimneys cannot be made to resist misuse or accidents.

Lamps on Fire

When a lamp overflows or for any reason gets on fire, seize it and throw it out of the window. A moment’s delay may result in an explosion that will scatter burning kerosene all about and lead to a conflagration. Or seize as quickly as possible a heavy woolen rug, table cover, or couch cover, and wrap it tightly around the lamp. This prevents the oxygen of the air from reaching the flame, and it is quickly smothered. If a person’s clothing takes fire from kerosene flames, do not throw water upon him or allow him to run about. Wrap him quickly in a large rug or other woolen cloth, which will extinguish the flames. If, by the explosion of a lamp or otherwise, burning oil is scattered about a room, do not throw water upon it, as it will only spread it. Throw on milk or any dry, heavy substance, as flour, corn meal, sand, or earth.

A Closeup of Mrs Curtis's Cookbook and Household Discoveries, Pages 90 & 91, discussing care and safety of oil lamps.

You can click on any of the pictures in this post to view a large image of the page, and even read additional sections on the care of lamps. I only included the most useful and immediately relevant sections. And of course, who can resist the Lamps on Fire section? Thank you to Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your survival library. It’s not only immediately useful and practical, it’s also entertaining!

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  1. Robson Bruce

    I love the “seize it and throw it out of the window”! Hope we never have try this out with our oil lamps!

    – Robson

  2. Big Daddy

    Lamps or lanterns? I have a half dozen lanterns in the garage. They have carry handles at the top so you can move around with them and set them down on your workbench when the powers out. Theyre convenient, multipurpose and dont need batteries. Good post Sandy.

  3. Garret

    Where do you get oil for the lamps?

  4. jim

    I just picked up some kerosene for my camp stove. You can get it at walmart, sporting goods stores, even gas stations. See for some other ideas. Home depot, lowes, other hardware stores too.

  5. June C.

    I can get kerosene from my local gas station – they have a separate pump for it in the back, away from the other pumps. I just went in and asked the attendant if they sold any, and he showed me to the tank. I had to buy a container from them though, as I had nothing to put my newly acquired flammable in. And now it’s safely tucked away in the cool basement, waiting to refill my lamps on a dark and windy day.

  6. June C.

    Also, did you know you can get kerosene generators? I’ve been thinking of having a large rolly bug tank installed under the back porch – like a fat sleeping firebug.

  7. Katie

    I found some half used canisters at garage sales and in my parent’s old shed. How long is the shelf life for kerosene, anyone know?

  8. Hernando

    if you store it well, it will last forever. no water, no rust, no red gunk, its good to burn. ive burned from 5 years past, no problem.

  9. Mikey

    Neat old book.

  10. Dura

    Thanks for this post – it was kinda funny. Toss it out the window!

  11. Alice RW.

    I have this book! I think I read about it on or some other blog I follow. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to sit down soon and look through it. Throw it out the window! Ha!

  12. Chii Mom

    I just came across your blog, and the next day happened to be out garage saleing. Picked up two matching oil lamps. Brought them home, and sadly broke one coming out of the car. But I remember what the article said about selecting a chimney, and I’m going to email the manufacturer and see if I can get a fitted replacement. Thanks for the info!

  13. Tarrix

    I bought this book back in February based on your recommendation, and I agree – it’s got a lot of great information in it. I recommend it highly to others. My copy is a little worse for wear, but nothing a little duct-tape won’t fix!

  14. Erin

    I googled, and found your article. It sounds like this a book worth buying for a prepper. Thanks for the info.

  15. Diane Menthos

    I want to hear what the proper method of sweeping a room is!

  16. Versales

    Thanks for the fun quotes. Can you post more from this book soon?

  17. Stu Mountain

    I agree with Hernando – I had some oil in an unopened package from the late 90’s, and it burned just fine in my new kerosene heater last week. – Stu

  18. Theo Jack

    I’d also like to see more from this book. It looks interesting, but I’m not sure I want to pay out $20 to get my own copy yet.

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