Friday, September 17, 2021
Friday, September 17, 2021

Coleman lanterns inspired by founder’s poor eyesight

A classic piece of equipment for generations of campers, hunters, anglers, farmers, soldiers and others who needed a convenient and reliable source of portable outdoor lighting, the Coleman lantern has gone through many changes over the years.

Coleman at work in about 1920.

W.C. Coleman first encountered the lamp that would change the course of his life in a drugstore window in 1899. Plagued with poor vision, Coleman was stopped in his tracks by the brilliant white light. The lamp had a mantle, not a wick, and was fueled by gasoline under pressure instead of coal oil. It was the Efficient Lamp, owned by the Irby-Gilliland Company, and Coleman enthusiastically signed on as a salesman with the company.

In 1901 Coleman established a base of operations in Wichita, Kan., then set out to design and manufacture an even better product after purchasing the inventory and patents for the lamp. Coleman’s lamps proved extremely popular. Electric service was undependable in urban areas and unavailable in rural areas, as it would be for many years to come.

In 1914 the young company introduced the lantern that made it famous. At 300 candlepower, it could light the far corners of a barn and provide good light in every direction for 100 yards. Providing more light than any other product on the market, the Coleman Arc Lantern made a significant impact on the country as the first outdoor all-weather gasoline lantern. It was practically weatherproof and bug-proof and would give up to 25 hours of service on a single filling of its 2-quart fuel fount.

Almost immediately after introducing the lantern, Coleman began making user-friendly changes such as downsizing the lantern to make it lighter and more portable.

The U.S. government in 1915 declared the Coleman lantern an “essential item” of World War I. More than 70,000 of the lanterns were distributed across the nation, allowing farmers and workers to extend their hours and produce items critical to the war effort.

In 1916 the company offered its first matchlight lantern – the Quick-Lite Lantern – eliminating the need to use a bit of felt, dipped in wood alcohol, ignited and then held against the generator in order to vaporize the fuel. Another early improvement was the addition of a built-in pump for pressurizing the liquid fuel in 1925.


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During the 1920s and ’30s, Coleman lanterns proved their worth on many international treks – from expeditions across the Sahara Desert to Admiral Byrd’s journey to the South Pole. They even guided aircraft to safe landings in the Andes Mountains.

Coleman introduced its first butane lantern in 1955 and its first propane lantern in 1974. These lanterns were powered by fuel that was already under pressure in a sealed cylinder, thereby eliminating the need for pouring and pumping any liquid fuel. Favored for their convenience, propane lanterns eventually overtook liquid fuel lanterns in popularity.

Coleman continued to make liquid fuel lanterns in models capable of running on the more economical camping fuel (aka Coleman fuel or white gas), unleaded gasoline or kerosene. Models that can be powered by unleaded gasoline are referred to as “Dual Fuel” because of their ability to run on unleaded gasoline or traditional camping fuel. Kerosene lanterns are produced mainly for overseas markets.

Coleman introduced its first propane lantern with electronic ignition for convenient matchless lighting in 1987.

In 1996 Coleman introduced the NorthStar Lantern, the most user-friendly liquid fuel lantern ever produced. It featured eight new convenience features, plus a contemporary look and 20 percent greater light output than Coleman’s previously brightest lantern. A propane version followed in 1997.

The Coleman Company, Inc., celebrated its centennial in 2001. A year later, the company had surpassed the 60 million mark in its fuel lantern production.

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Leanne Hopkins
6 months ago

In the 60’s we camped almost every weekend in north GA or western NC in our Coleman pop up. My dad would put the Coleman lantern (white gas, don’t break the mantle) in the camper to warm it up so my mom and I could take a spit bath.

Tom Pozza
6 months ago

I have used Coleman stoves and lanterns for 55 years. I now collect and refurbish their lamps, lanterns and stoves. I currently have around 70 lanterns, 12 lamps and around 10 stoves. All are in working order. Most are pre-1950 with many from 1919-1930. I switch around the ones I bring with me now…

Billy
6 months ago

I’ve had mine over 40 years, along with my 2-burner Coleman stove – first camping with my parents in upstate NY, then “car” camping with my own family when we’d go out in tents. Used them both until I got my RV, but I might put them back in service after reading this article. No reason they can’t be used. Not sure why I stopped.

Tommy Molnar
6 months ago

Boy, does THIS ever bring back memories! In my early days we had a couple of the kerosene lanterns in my Boy Scout troupe. Later, when I went camping on my own I acquired the Coleman stove and lantern, and the catalytic heater. The heater almost killed my friend and me as we slept in our tightly closed canvas tent in sub-freezing temperatures. If it hadn’t been for having to get up and step out to take care of some ‘business’ (barefoot into 3″ of snow!) and realizing ‘something was ‘wrong’, we may not have made it to the morning. Lesson learned.

David Telenko
6 months ago

As a kid in the 50’s we used ours for night fishing. My Dad had a bracket he made that fastened to the edge of the boat seat, The double mantle lantern was hung outboard & had a piece of aluminum foil covering the side facing the inside to keep from blinding you. The idea was to attract the fish at night & for sure it did, great memories. Also when we got back the lantern served as light to clean the fish! Oh ya I remember us losing one as it hadn’t gotten fastened properly to the bracket, no worries as my Dad had a spare all the time! I have a few Coleman lanterns hanging around in my shop, don’t actually collect them, they just seem to multiply I have one of those early propane ones that the very small cylinder screws into the side instead of the current ones that screw in on the bottom, wish I could find some of those canisters.

Chic Sanders
6 months ago

Obviously, a lantern will bring friends and family together for a meal and fellowship at night. It is very interesting how it has brought so many interesting memories out of the dark past in these comments.

Richard Hughes
6 months ago

Camping always included the Coleman lantern and green Coleman stove, along with the red gas can and extra mantels. “Don’t bang the lantern, you’ll break the mantels, was a common saying. The light would start to dim and flicker and Dad would start pumping to build the pressure back up.

Last edited 6 months ago by Richard Hughes
Greg Horodeck
1 year ago

For my 16th birthday, my godfather gave me a new Coleman double mantle lantern, model 228F. That was in 1964, I still have and use it!

In 1974, my company gave me a performance award where I could pick out items from a catalog. I selected a Coleman Propane camping outfit including; 11 lb propane tank, regulator with tank adapter, hoses, double mantle propane lantern (5114-700) with hose adapter and two burner propane stove (5410-708). Over time I purchased additional hoses, which were proprietary and discontinued some time ago. Still got these, as well.

Greg

Alvin
1 year ago

I have a friend who has a wonderful collection of Coleman lanterns.
At one time in the early going when we were actually “camping” (axe firewood, hamburger helper, matches etc etc) we’d never have thought of leaving home without our Coleman collection.
Today no way.
Over time we developed an attitude that getting away from artificial light was a major goal in getting out of the city – “away from it all”
We could see things without artificial light, that were impossible with artificial light in a natural setting.

With a Coleman blasting away on the picnic table, we couldn’t see a dam thing beyond that table – we were completely blinded by that piercing light.

We found it amazing that once the human eye (and mind) is trained to see in the dark, what wonders abound.

The concept will be “dutch” for those who’ve not experienced the wonder of a night sky or the coyote moving across a meadow lit not by Mr. Coleman, but by Mr. Moon.

Gene Cheatham
1 year ago

Interesting article! On my list of places to go is the Coleman Museum in Wichita. I understand it’s a great place to see.

Tom Pozza
6 months ago
Reply to  Gene Cheatham

Museum has been closed since around 2018 I think along with the outlet store there.

impavid
1 year ago

A great story, thanks. I have about a dozen Coleman gas lanterns and maybe 4 or 5 propane ones. In the gas type I only buy the Model 321 so all the parts are interchangeable. I also pick up parts and pieces at garage sales. As to gas stoves they tend to follow me home. I was up to ten but now down to about 5. Gas and propane. I have my Dad’s which we used on a trip east in 1951. Won’t ever part with that one.

Paul Grossmann
1 year ago

Back in the 1980s I had an extensive collection of old coleman lanterns the ones made for the military had four individual sections of glass and the bottom unscrewed to a compartment for small tools. Some had mica in place of glass.
I think I had about twenty different models at that tome

Donald N Wright
1 year ago

I learned to trust the Coleman name as quality products. Lanterns, stoves, heater, and even a Popup trailer.

Gene Cheatham
1 year ago

Our first RV was a Coleman Ligonier we bought new about 1980, now we are on our 6 RV, a 5th wheel. We LOVED our pop-up, many good memories and a well built piece.

bloom144
1 year ago

We still have several white gas and propane Coleman lanterns that we occasionally use RV camping just for nostalgia. I also use a Coleman 425F white gas stove to perk coffee outside when camping as not to disturb my still sleeping lovely wife.

bisonwings
2 years ago

My folks had a Coleman stove and cooler long before they bought a lantern. I remember the first Coleman lantern my folks bought in ‘59 and still have it as part of my collection. Through the years as a Boy Scout there was always a Coleman lantern in the camp. In later years Coleman scaled down the lantern in their Peak 1 line so you could carry one in a backpack. I still carry one of those in the 5th wheel and break it out when we do a family camp out with kids and grandkids. If you are ever in Wichita take time to visit the Coleman museum. It’s located in their outlet store in the Old Town section of downtown Wichita.

Lee
2 years ago

Yeah, Coleman stoves and lanterns have been part of our camping for decades. We still have them along in the TT, and the lantern is useful around the house when the electric is out.

Rammer
2 years ago

Coleman lanterns certainly had/have there use in tent camping but I find them particularly offensive while camping in a campground full of motorhomes and camping trailers (tent camping in a different area) and a neighbor lights up a Coleman, hangs it from a tree and then walks into his $200,000 motorhome and closes the door for the night!

Alvin
1 year ago
Reply to  Rammer

Couldn’t agree more Rammer – see my comment above -see you in the night sometime.

Tom
2 years ago

Fond memories of camping and sitting around campfire and lanterns on the picnic table at night

Tim
2 years ago

Still have a lantern & stove that uses Coleman Fuel, haven’t been used much in last 5 years. Used extensively in the 70’s, 80’s, & 90’s with only minor repair, replacement of parts. Great memories from my parents passed down to my kids ?

John
2 years ago

This brings back very fond memories of tent camping in the late 60’s and 70’s. However, I enjoy the ease of setup of my Motorhome and flicking of a light switch more.

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