No. 1, 2006

Prof. Anatoly Troshin
Cand. Sc. (Tech.) ,
Alexander Asenin


In the late 19th century, kerosene found (in addition to its application for lighting) wide use as a fuel for kitchen appliances

From the early 1850s onward, kerosene's wide use as a source of light would determine its practical application in urban utilities and everyday domestic life for many decades to come. In addition to lighting, however, kerosene was in great demand as a fuel for kitchen appliances.

Kerosene comes to the kitchen

The kerosene era, which began with the invention of the kerosene lamp by the Lvov apothecary Ignaty Lukashevich in 1853, would provide a powerful impetus for the development of the oil industry and its refining sector throughout the third quarter of the 19th century. However, the invention of the incandescent electric lamp by the Russian inventor Alexander Lodygin in 1872, and its subsequent improvement by the American inventor Thomas Edison in 1879, would mark the triumphant beginning of the electrical era in the history of human civilization.

Nevertheless, kerosene lighting would for many years continue to be of importance to rural populations. Kerosene also found new use as a fuel for kitchen appliances in urban areas, creating considerable competition for the gas stove.

Initially, there were attempts to use other petroleum products (e.g. gasoline) for such fuel as well. Such heating appliances, however, did not prove popular, even though they had the advantage of a simple design. Experts saw the high flammability of gasoline as the main reason for the devices' failure. Charles F. Chandler, in his study Report on Petroleum as an Illuminator, cited many accidents caused by gasoline burning out of control in kitchen stoves.

Kerosene ranges therefore quickly won a place of their own on the household appliance market, and were able to compete successfully against their gas counterparts. In his book The Petroleum Heating of Room, Kitchen, Bakery, and Other Ranges, the Russian engineer and technician Stepan Gulishambarov wrote: Thanks to the simplicity of kerosene ranges' construction, the substantial concentration of a great quantity of heat in a small space, the low cost of the fuel, and a large number of other minor conveniences, these ranges have rapidly become popular around the world and have penetrated wherever kerosene has done so. At present, one can find a multitude of kerosene kitchen ranges offered for sale: in every European country, and particularly in Great Britain, several hundred patents have been issued for them; in the United States of America, the number is probably several thousand.

In most cases, heating appliances that burned kerosene were basically of the same type and differed only in their outward appearance. One of the first kerosene ranges was the model produced by Fleming and Hamilton, which came on the market in Chicago in 1878. Because of its complex design, however, it was not very popular with consumers. American housewives preferred simpler models: the Clipper, Gem, and Economist. The latter model was the most convenient to use: the kerosene reservoir was separated from the range itself, and it was easy to clean and fill.

Especially popular in Great Britain were the kitchen ranges produced by Birmingham's Albion Lamp Company, following the design of engineers Frank S. and Henry V. Rippingille. These extraordinarily elegant ranges were of a regular rectangular form and were very easy to transport, since the necessary pots and pans could be placed inside the range itself. In the lower part of the main body, there was a special chamber into which the metal kerosene reservoirs were placed. These reservoirs, one for each burner, were manufactured flat for the sake of convenience; they were a bit longer than wide, making them comparatively narrow. The oven chambers were completely isolated from the products of combustion.

Kerosene kitchen ranges of French manufacture (the Wagner, Boisson, and Economique ranges) were not terribly popular, as they were unable to compete with the less expensive and easier-to-use British and American models on the European market.

In Germany, housewives adored Hagerich ranges and the complicated multifunctional kerosene ranges produced by M.S. Armur. In Denmark, the Steenberg ranges of distinctive design were very popular.

Russian kerosene ranges

Kerosene ranges were extremely popular in the Russian Empire as well. Russian kitchen ranges were distinguished by their use of pyronaphtha instead of ordinary lamp kerosene: the former is a petroleum product with a high specific gravity and is consequently less flammable than the latter. Especially in demand in the Russian capital was entrepreneur Ivan Kumberg's Progress pyronaphtha range The latest innovation of this type in Petersburg, wrote Gulishambarov of this invention in 1887. The range consisted of a pyronaphtha reservoir on which the burner was placed. On the burner was a drum with a small window, through which one could see how combustion was proceeding.

The pyronaphtha range produced by the inventor Snesarev earned great praise: a patent was awarded for its design even in Great Britain, and many residents of the British Isles eagerly adopted it for use in their own homes. The British grandly called Snesarev's pyronaphtha range the Empire Safety Stove, testifying to just how safe it was to use. The range was also noteworthy in that it required no copious draft from piping. The complete combustion of pyronaphtha inside the range was achieved by using a double hood that covered the burner in such a way that part of the air supplied to the flame was already heated. The heating capacity of Snesarev's range was 30% greater than that of similar appliances.

Boverton Redwood, the well-known British chemist and Inspector of the London Petroleum Association, praised Snesarev's invention: A flame of no great luminosity is obtained, but it is well adapted for heating. Snesarev's technology was developed further in another invention Welles's kerosene torch, or lantern. To be sure, Welles's method of burning kerosene without an artificial draft was somewhat different than that of Snesarev. Welles's burner had not just glass but a wick as well; this was extremely important in simplifying the device's design. The kerosene lantern operated in the following way: the kerosene itself was ignited, and after several minutes, the burner was sufficiently hot for the gasified kerosene, rather than the liquid, to run through a metal valve. Combustion thereby proceeded without smoke and provided great amounts of light on the order of 75candlepower. The combustion was of such intensity that the burner was capable of heating in the open air even when there was a strong wind. Welles's lantern had excellent heating characteristics and was used not just in kitchen ranges but in other types of such devices as well. Kerosene consumption depended on the rate of combustion, but was usually no greater than 0.50.75 lbs. per hour.

In his book, Gulishambarov wrote that this invention deserves a great deal more attention than has been given it to date. The only weakness of Welles's lantern, Gulishambarov noted, was that its wiring often became fouled as a result both of the burner glowing incandescent from its own heat, and of the kerosene's incomplete combustion process.

The kerogas and the primus

Snesarev and Welles's devices brought the engineering community closer to the invention of a new kerosene-fueled heating apparatus that would eventually be called the kerogas or Primus.

Frans Wilhelm Lindquist (18621931), the inventor of the kerogas, was born in Sweden, in the town of Vstergtland. He would later move to Stockholm, where he began working at the AB Separator Company's factory. Encouraged by a colleague at the factory, Lindquist and his brother succeeded in the late 1880s in constructing a new type of burner for kerosene ranges. In his design, Frans Lindquist solved the main problem of using kerosene: soot. He applied the following revolutionary solution in his device: the kerosene would evaporate before it is combusted. In addition to being sootless, the Swedish entrepreneur's invention was distinguished by the higher temperature of its flame and its noiseless combustion.

Frans Lindquist began selling samples of his invention to friends and neighbors. The number of those wanting to buy the new device grew rapidly, however. A special store was first set up; this was followed by the Primus Company, which commenced production of the eponymous product. It was with the establishment of the Primus Co. in 1892 that the industrial manufacture of kerogases began.

Thanks to an advertising campaign devised by the marketing firm B.A. Hjort & Co., sales of the Bahco model of kerosene ranges skyrocketed, and Primuses were soon being sold abroad. Experts noted that the main advantages of Frans Lindquist's invention included the total absence of soot and smoke, the low cost of the device, and its durability and consequent long life. Water could be brought to a boil on it in three to four minutes, and steaks fried in five a sensational achievement that has been surpassed only by modern microwave ovens. The advantages of the kerogas over other kinds of ranges guaranteed that the device would rapidly become popular around the world. By 1910, more than 1.5 million ranges were being manufactured annually.

Primuses became known around the world as a result of their being used by famous mountain climbers during their ascents of Mt. Everest, and by the discoverers of the South Pole. Kerosene-burning appliances were finally replaced by gas and electric ranges in the second half of the 20th century.

Today, looking back on the history of the creation of the 19th century's kerosene ranges, one sees clearly that they are not only material witnesses to the past: more than anything else, they reflect brilliantly a certain level of development in humanity's cognitive and material-transforming abilities.

All articles
Oil of Russia, No. 1, 2006
© 1998-2022, "OIL OF RUSSIA".
"OIL OF RUSSIA" magazine welcomes comments and ideas from its readers.
Letters should be sent by regular mail, fax or e-mail.
All right reserved, including right of reproduction in whole or in parts in any form.