A Heritage of Light: Lamps and Lighting in the Early Canadian Home


344 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3765-8
DDC 621.32'0971'09034




Reviewed by Alex Curran

Alex Curran is a former member of both the National Advisory Board on
Science and Technology and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council. He was chair of the Telecommunications Sectoral Advisory
Committee on Free Trade and the first recipien


Dr. Loris S. Russell has written a classic study of the evolution of
artificial lighting in North America, primarily in the 18th and 19th
centuries. In that era, there was an ongoing search for the ideal
illumination fuel. Such a fuel, in addition to providing good
illumination, must be readily available, affordable, and safe to use.
The path leads from tallow candles through whale oil to kerosene and
ultimately to natural gas and electricity.

At each stage of the search, technology must be evolved to provide safe
and efficient burning of the fuel while optimizing the light output. The
evolution of the technology is observed through examples found in
pioneer homes and meeting places. Dr. Russell completes and
authenticates the physical record by tracing the record of patents
granted in the United States and Canada and by examining consumer
catalogues and advertisements. Nearly 200 lamps are illustrated, with
explanations of working mechanisms provided for some of the more

In a book that might be seen as a case study in the evolution of a
technology, Dr. Russell has provided a complete record of the North
American experience in artificial illumination during the period prior
to the wholesale application of electricity. Recommended for museums
that cover life in North America during the 18th and 19th centuries, and
for those who enjoy the search for Canadiana through auctions or antique
and collectible fairs.


Russell, Loris S., “A Heritage of Light: Lamps and Lighting in the Early Canadian Home,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15367.