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.
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.
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.