History of Gas Lamps - Who Invented Gas Lamp?

Old Gas Lamp

Because oil lamps were not too effective in lightning of larger areas like streets and houses it was necessary to come up with a more appropriate solution. Many years before William Murdoch illuminated his house with the first gas lamp there were tries to make streets safer and more comfortable at night by using any kind of artificial light. In 1417, Mayor of London gave an order for citizens to put lights on the streets on the winter nights and Paris had a law since 1524 that all the houses that face the streets must have light in windows so people can see. But using coal gas for lightning didn’t came suddenly. Since 1667 it was known that coal gas is flammable. It took 140 years, Industrial Revolution and a man called William Murdoch for things to start.

While working at the Soho Foundry, he experimented with different types of gas and found that coal gas (result of distillation of coal) is the most effective. Idea was to transport gas through pipe installations to the place of consumption and there lit in the gas lamps to be used for illumination. In 1792, he lit his house with coal gas which is considered as first commercial use of gas and gas lamps for illumination.

After that, in 1798, he used gas to light the main building of the place he worked - Soho Foundry and 1802 lit the outside of the building in a public display of the gas light which was met with great astonishment by the local population. In Paris in 1801, Philip Lebon had used gas to lit his house. 1807 Pall Mall in London was the first street to be illuminated with gas lamps and 1820 Paris starts using gas lamps on the streets. Gas streetlights were placed on the posts and had to be lit every evening and put out every morning. That was a job of Lamp lighters that had to take care not to let too much gas into lamp and then lit it which would result in explosion. After that gas light spread to other countries. Baltimore was the first city in the United States to have gas streetlights. Gas lamps (for house use or of the street kind) were designed in elegant and attractive manner. Global usage of gas lamps on streets, marks the beginning of the big gas companies. Until the early 20th century most of the cities in the Europe and America had gas streetlights and a gas lamps in the houses. Then electric light started to take over and the gaslight faded into history. Now it is used mostly in places where it is desirable to maintain historical authenticity or as a tourist attraction. Gas light is now also used for camping.

While a big step in the direction of effective and cheap public lightning, gas light had its flaws. Because there were no regulations, firms that supplied gas maintained poor workmanship which resulted in leaking pipes and low gas pressure. For the same reason there were often cases of fire, explosions and suffocations. Despite of all the flaws it remained popular method of illumination for many years.