Aladdin Lamps: A Brief History of Aladdin Industries

A Need for Better Lighting

Prior to the invention and widespread use of electric lighting in homes across America, life was illuminated by candlelight and lamps fueled with whale oil.

Whale oil was not only not very brightly burning but also was smelly and due it not being very clean burning was dirty and left soot marks not only on the chimney but on the ceilings and surrounding in whatever room it was used.

The danger associated with the Whaling industry coupled with the declining population of whales and the growing need for more oil leads to the search for a better burning, more abundantly sourced oil.

Kerosene oil was discovered by Canadian physician Abraham Gesner in the late 1840s

Originally sourced from coal tar and shale oils, kerosene was later derived from petroleum, after the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859.

The Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company of America

Midwestern salesman Victor S. Johnson founded and incorporated the Western Lighting Company in Minneapolis, MN in 1907.

After seeing the superior light produced by a German kerosene mantle burner called the “Practicus”, Johnson decided to form his own company.

Having studied in poorly lit rooms as a child, Johnson immediately recognized a need for better lighting.

Johnson also saw the potential for sales, particularly in rural areas where electricity was still many years from widespread adoption.

His company obtained the rights to sell the Practicus mantle burner and other foreign-made lamp parts.

Less than a year later, Johnson moved his company to Chicago where he incorporated the Mantle Lamp Company of America in February of 1908.

Fine Tuning a Bright Light

When properly adjusted, the Practicus burner produced a white light with an output equivalent to about 60 candles.

This mantle burner was designed to fit into most American-made fonts, but it required constant attention because it often went out of alignment and chimneys were susceptible to cracking.

Johnson began searching for a better version.

After acquiring the center-draft burner patented by Charles E. Wirth and manufactured by Plume & Atwood, Johnson soon introduced the first Aladdin lamp in 1909.

The name “Aladdin” was inspired by the famous folktale Arabian Knights in which a genie is found residing in an old oil lamp.

Because it was so much more efficient than any other lamp on the market, initial sales of the Aladdin lamp exceeded all expectations.

Johnson then established a small research department to improve quality and continue advancement.

The Early Days of Aladdin Manufacturing

The first Aladdin lamp model came with several variations to choose from: three table lamps, two hanging lamps, a wall-mounted lamp, and an oil pot lamp.

Lampshades were made of glass while mantles and chimneys were imported from Germany, but the company soon began contracting independent glass companies to produce their own hardware at their own in-house manufacturing facility.

After introducing Aladdin models one and two with cap mantles that sat on cone-shaped openings on the galleries, Johnson and his team receive the first patent for a “Kone Kap” mantle design that made it much easier to operate the lamp.

Electrification & Marketing

Long before World War I, Johnson recognized the importance of marketing to the company’s success and overall growth.

Frequently advertised in Newspaper periodicals, the radio and movie theater pre-shows.

The company also began forming partnerships with retailers.

The sixth model won a gold medal at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in 1915.

Due to the partnership with Plume & Atwood, the Aladdin brand was no longer dependent on the engineering and technology of just a few companies in Germany.

Due to Germany’s role in World War I, German lamp parts became unavailable in America.

As electrification progressed, Johnson decided to open an international office and formed Aladdin Industries in 1919.

By 1926, Johnson had purchased a glass manufacturing company in order to gain full control over manufacturing.

Impacts of World War II

WWII played a significant role in the history of Aladdin lamps. As the war effort intensified, electric lamps were temporarily discontinued by 1943.

Aladdin was granted permission to use copper by the War Production Board, because the use of Aladdin kerosene lamps reduced the need for copper wire to electrify homes.

Victor S. Johnson died suddenly in 1943, and his son took over the company after being discharged from the army in 1945.

Four years later, Johnson Jr. relocated the Aladdin headquarters from Chicago to Nashville.

Decline & Revitalization

As the years went by, domestic sales of kerosene lamps began to decline, and electric lighting made kerosene and oil lamps practically obsolete.

Aladdin’s electric lamp production ceased as of 1956, but the kerosene lamps gained a resurgence of renewed interest throughout the 1960s and 70s.

In 1973, an eclectic collector organization known as the Aladdin Knights was formed in an effort to collect and preserve memorabilia.

By 1977, all manufacturing had been moved to Hong Kong.

In 1999 Aladdin Industries sold the lamp division to collector/investors who named their company Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company, located in Clarksville, Tennessee.

By 2014 some of the partners running the Aladdin mantle lamp company were ready to retire and the company was sold to Lehmans at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

The Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company became part of the Crownplace Brands division of Lehmans.

In early 2015 the company assets were transferred from Tennessee to Dalton, Ohio.

High-Value & Sought-After Aladdin Lamps

Kerosene Brass Students Lamp: Sold for $3,750 April of 2020

Aladdin Brass Hanging Lamp: Sold for $325 August of 2022

Aladdin Alacite Lincoln Drape Lamp: Sold for $164 January of 2022

Modern Production