Gas mantles and electric bulbs competed for the home lighting market during the first decades of the 20th century. This advertisement claimed modern gas lighting offered health benefits by ridding the atmosphere of dust and bacteria, while combustion set up a healthful circulation of air inside buildings.
In the 1880s, Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach (1858-1929) created fabric impregnated with thorium and cerium, which glowed incandescently when heated by burning gas. Mantels for gas lamps were the first industrial product to use rare earth elements, and led to an international trade in rare earth ores, especially monazite. Welsbach managed firms around the world that sold gas lamps for lighting streets, homes and businesses, which shaped the visual landscapes that millions of people inhabited from the 1890s into the 1930s.
In the United States, the Welsbach Incandescent Gas Lighting Company had offices on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, and a factory on the Delaware River at Gloucester, New Jersey. Many of the factory workers were women, who sewed the fabric mantels and packed the mantels into packages for sale across the country.
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