Kerosene lanterns burn petroleum oil to provide indoor light when electricity is unavailable. Lanterns, sometimes called lamps, largely replaced candles as the main source of interior light when kerosene became an alternative to other kinds of combustible oil. People continue to use kerosene lanterns for camping, ambience, or in case of emergency blackouts.
Kerosene oil has been distilled from petroleum, as is gasoline. It’s an alternative to oil from whales, fish, citronella, olives, beeswax, or nuts that people used to make primitive lamps. "Lamp" comes from a Greek word meaning "torch," lampas. Robert Edwin Dietz, as the father of the kerosene lantern, patented his lamp in 1840. It burned an unfamiliar oil to light train tracks criss-crossing the United States. Soon these portable, safe, weatherproof, and inexpensive lanterns were illuminating everything from one-room schoolhouses to police stations. Their fumes were not dangerous and they were less likely than candles to tip over and start a fire.
The parts of a kerosene lantern are the glass globe that surrounds the flame and keeps it steady; the handle, suspended from the body so it doesn’t get hot; the wick, a round or flat woven cotton length; the burner, the metal dish holding the wick upright; a lever that controls the height of the wick above the burner; and the fount or reservoir that holds the oil.
A kerosene lantern uses the principles of carburetion and wicking. In the simplest kind of lamp, the dead flame lantern, open vents let in fresh air to allow the oil to burn. Hot air rises and escapes through the top. This basic form of carburetion provides oxygen to mix with the gaseous form of kerosene, since fire needs oxygen to burn. Capillary action works by drawing the kerosene out of the fount to the tip of the wick where the flame heats the oil to a gas and ignites it. Unlike propane lanterns, kerosene lanterns do not use mantles.
A more sophisticated method of carburetion can be found in hot blast or cold blast lanterns. These are tubular forms of the standard lantern, introduced by John Henry Irwin in 1869, to refine the way the vapor of kerosene oil mixes with fresh air to ignite. These lamps have side tubes running between outside air and the reservoir of oil. In cold blast types, fresh, oxygenated air circulates and makes a very bright flame. Hot blast lanterns circulate some fresh and some warmer, oxygen-poor air. This produces a softer flame, but conserves oil.