Gas burners

The Chinese had been using natural gas for thousands of years to heat and light their workshops. In Europe however, gas was only known as a lab curiosity but wasn't used until the gas industry was developed in late 18th century. Pit-coal was heated in retorts to obtain some burnable gas called coal-gas or town-gas. This process yielded by-products such as coke, sulfamides, artificial colorings, tar, etc. Coal-gas contained mainly carbon monoxide and hydrogen, but also benzole, which gave gas its illuminating power. Early burners used the light produced by gas itself. Later, after incandescent burners were introduced from 1885 on, benzole could be removed from gas and used to synthetize explosives.  Incandescent burners use only the calorific power of gas, produce a hot blue flame and make glow the mantle made of a mixture of thorium and cerium.

Today, natural gas (mainly methane) replaced almost everywhere coal gas. Bottled butane and propane are also used in remote dwellings and mobile lighting apparatus.

Acetylene is produced in special lamps or small plants through the reaction of calcium carbide with water. The burners are of the same types used for coal-gas, but in special versions.

Different steps in manufacturing steatite-burners for gas or acetylene.

Display in the Techniques-Museum Vienna (Austria).


Flat-flame or bat's wing burner yileds an unsteady flame due to turbulencesIts use was widespread in streetlights in the early days of gas lighting. Made of metal or steatite Bat's wing The flat flame can be protected against air draft by a globe. We show here an ornate example from England, ca. 1880. Winged angel
Union jet Two holes drilled at 90° to each other yield this flame in the shape of a fishtail, hence the name of the burner, also called a Union Jet burner. Metal or steatite. Albo-Carbon When gas contains less luminous principles than required for a proper light output, it can be enriched by adding some heavy hydrocarbons, like naphthalene. This apparatus was named the Albo-Carbon burner.
The double air draft principle introduced by Argand for colza-oil lamps in late 18th century was also applied to gas burners with a number of small holes in a circle. The flame is tubular, and the chimney makes the flame steady, suitable for indoors lighting. BengelArgand-chimney The regular chimney for Argand-type burners is a straight one, but different shapes were also used, like this rare one with small air-holes around the flame. The  burners are a Bengel (left) and an Albert-burner (right). Albert

Competition from electric arc lamps pushed gas burners toward better light output.
Intensive burners, and later incandescent burners were developed.

Six flat-flame burners in a circle yield a powerful source of light in this intensive
"Bec du 4 septembre" after the name of the street where it was first used in Paris.

4 septembre

Robert Bunsen introduced a new burner with a blue hot flame in 1855. It wasn't suitable for lighting and was used only for heating and cooking until Carl Auer von Welsbach added an incandescent mantle on top of the flame after 1885. We show here the flame of such a Welsbach-burner without a mantle. 

Auer Welsbach Auer Welsbach 1885 Auer Welsbach 1905 Early Welsbach-burners with the open gallery-bottom use a straight chimney, and later burners with the plain bottom need a special chimney with air-holes around the mantle.

After 1900, inverted burners were made to avoid the shadow thrown below the burner.  This Graetzin-burner was built by Ehrich & Graetz in Berlin after Otto Mannesmann's patent of 1900. Several other manufactures used the same patent. 


The Farkas-burner was patented in France in 1903 after research by Bernd and Cervenka of Prague.

A porcelain cone-deflector pushes hot combustion products away from the primary air inlets.  

Double hanging Multiple inverted burners with up to 16 mantles have been in use for a century in street lighting.

Today, over 100,000 Gas-streetlights are in use throughout Europe, mainly in Germany.

Bré This propane-lamp is still widely in use in remote houses and cottages. Other lamps are still offered by several European suppliers for indoors-use or for mobile-homes.

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