The History

What is a hurricane lamp, lantern

A hurricane lantern is a lantern that is suitable for providing light in rugged outdoor conditions. There are a lot of synonyms 

  • Hurricane Lantern or Lamp
  • Storm Lantern or Lamp
  • Outdoor Lantern

Properties of a storm lantern are that the flame is protected by glass, it has a handle, and the oil reservoir does not leak when tilted. Hurricane lanterns were originally widely used on and around the railway, ships, workshops, factories, the barn, stables, homes, and the road. In some areas, they are used for a long time due to the lack of electricity. Today they are mainly used in outdoor applications and as atmospheric lighting in the garden or the house. The terms hurricane lamp and hurricane lantern can both be used.

The history of the hurricane lantern

In the early 19th century, lanterns were mainly made of wood, glass, horn, or metal panels. The first lanterns had a candle as a light source. From the 1830s, whale oil became more widely available, and the advent of wick lanterns and wick holders came on the market. The light output was much higher than that of the traditional candle. From 1830, stronger glass was produced, and lamps with a glass globe, metal top, and a metal bottom became common. From 1850 the first lanterns were produced with protective wires around the glass. This also made them more popular for outdoor use. Also, kerosene came on the market on a large scale and was affordable; lanterns with oil wicks were used more and more. From then on, development took off, with the first hot-blast lantern in 1860 and the cold-blast lantern in 1880. Both types of lanterns are still (largely) produced according to this principle. In the period between 1860 and 1910, the storm lantern was perfected, both in function, design, and production method.

Hurricane lanterns in the 20th century

Hurricane lanterns were still used intensively on the railways, ships, and along the road until the mid-20th century but were replaced by electricity and battery lighting over time. After that, they were mainly used in areas without electricity or for outdoor applications. This history is primarily based on the history of the American storm lanterns because a lot of documentation is available. This will, of course, have been different in Europe and other countries, but in general, the history will certainly match.

Different types of hurricane lanterns

There are three main types of storm lanterns, which differ not only in design but also in operation. The three types are:

  • Dead-Flame
  • Hot-Blast
  • Cold-Blast


Until about 1855, hurricane lanterns were mainly based on the dead-flame principle, which was still often used after this. The design is primarily based on letting as little outside wind as possible reach the flame. The air ventilation holes on the top were for the exhaust of the air. These are designed with plates behind them so that no direct wind can reach the flame. The ventilation holes on the bottom and the base design were intended to provide a controlled airflow as a supply.


This type of lantern was designed by John Irwin, who patented it in 1868 after his father complained that the flame went out so quickly when you moved the lantern. They have been produced since 1880; significant progress is that the rising warm, partially burnt air is brought back to the bottom through the tubes on the side so that it is mixed with fresh air and brought back into the lantern. Because the partially burned air retains carbon, so the flame is also more yellow than a dead-flame lantern. This flame is more controllable and has a higher light output.


John Irwin continued to innovate, and in 1876 he invented the Cold-Blast storm lantern. This type of lantern only supplied fresh air to the flame at the wick; all the hot, burnt air was expelled from the lantern. Channeling only fresh, oxygen-rich air into the flame produces a bright white light. This design doubles the light output compared to a hot-blast lantern.