TeriAnn's Guide to Aladdin and other brands of kerosene Mantle Lamps

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Farmor Manufacturing Co.

of St. Louis Missouri.  Started manufacturing mantle lamps in 1935 and closed the lamp division shortly after WWII.

The name Farmor was a play on the words "Far" and "More" meaning you got "far more" light for your money.

Farmor Office 1938
The building was built in the mid 1800's and originally was a tavern and Inn.

The Farmor factory and show room in St. Louis, circa 1939-1940. It is a two story structure, about half a block long with a full basement. All the stampings were done in the basement where presses could be bolted to a concrete floor. The soldering of the burners and lacquer coating of them, wick coating, lamp assembly and packaging was done on the other two floors.  The offices and showroom were combined in the front of the building.

Supplies of glass bases, chimney's and shades were stored upon arrival at another location one block away and pulled into this location as needed each morning.

At the end of each day finished lamps were sent to the shipping warehouse located two blocks away which was referred to as the "cow barn" because the rear of the building housed a bakery wagon and horse used for delivery of breads to grocery stores.  Later an addition was built on the lot where the signboard is. The addition became their finished goods warehouse.

Because the Farmor lamps were a late entry to the American kerosene lamp market they never outgrew those facilities before the demand for kerosene lamps quickly diminished after WWII.

All tooling (dies and fixtures) were scrapped when they moved from the old plant at 2862 Gravois to their current location at 4324 Fyler Ave. in 1960.

 

 

Like many American incandescent mantle lamp companies in the US, Farmor was started by an individual with an idea and lots of tenacity. Most of the American mantle lamp companies started in the early 1900's buying a German made burner and coupling it to an American made lamp body. These went out of business at the beginning of WWI in Europe when German burners could no longer be imported.

Other entrepreneurs started with an idea to design their own burner and market it themselves,  Most of these efforts were under funded and they never received the orders to stay in business very long.  Inventors do not always make the best marketing people.

The Farmor lamp started out as an idea of a man turned inventor on a shoe string like many of the others. But where this entrepreneur differed is that he took his prototype to Sears and landed a large contract for lamps with enough funds to get the company immediately onto solvent grounds.  Unfortunately for Farmor, they got a late start in the kerosene lamp business and 6 years after manufacturing started they were faced with war materials shortages and the rapid electrification of rural America.

Farmor company History:

The history of The Farmor lamp company  is in its way the story of American spirit and perseverance  during the 1930's great depression. It is the story of  Bill Keller who lost his job as a time keeper when the factory he worked at closed down at the onset of the great depression.  Who broke up wooden boxes to sell door to door as kindling. The idea of a kerosene lamp company started in 1930 when his wife asked why kerosene lamps put out a smoky yellow flame with not much light.  It is the story of Bill Keller, initially unaware of kerosene mantle kerosene lamps and with only a high school education labored for 5 years to devise a bright kerosene mantle lamp. Of two people scraping to get by during those hard times, making sacrifices to get materials to build prototype burners.  Of early prototypes built from available parts, often from the 5 and 10 store.  Such as a cut down funnel for a burner cone. Bill was not a lighting engineer and the design was done by best guess, error and best guess yet again.

Bill Keller went to different companies until he found companies that would make wicks and mantles to his specification on speculation with no guarantee for an order for production quantities. When he finally developed a burner that worked dependably and met his expectations he applied for a patent and started building one off burners which he sold door to door.  There still was not enough money to go into production. Bill wrote to Sears Roebuck & Co.  telling them that he had a mantle lamp that reliably burned with 110 candle power asking for an order. Later he had a meeting with agents of Sears and demonstrated his burner.  The agents measured the light output and satisfied themselves that the burner was indeed a reliable 110 candle power burner.  When Bill Keller got on the train that evening to go home to St. Luis, he had a contract from Sears to provide them with 25,000 mantle lamps for 1935. So in 1935, the Farmor lamp company was born as also was Bill Keller Jr. the only child of the founder. 

Bill Keller's development of the Farmor mantle lamp earned him an honorary induction into the Engineers Club of Missouri, with only a high school education. Up to that date only people with an engineering degree from a university were allowed to be members. He was presented with a lapel pin that he wore with pride until his death, and was buried wearing it.

In 1935 Sears took delivery of and sold 32,000 lamps.  Bill started a burner manufacturing plant at 2862 Gravois Ave., St. Louis, MO.  The chimneys and glass fonts came from a company called Dunbar Glass, located in West Virginia. The optional parchment shades were manufactured by a local company, Wallace Shade Co., St. Louis, MO. The wicks were manufactured by Secony Mobile.  Early mantles were manufactured by Welsbach and later by Lindsay.

The company continued to grow from a single untrained inventor on a mission to develop a bright white light, to an initial order for 25,000 lamps to higher production quantities as additional distributors started selling Farmor lamps.  Farmor lamps sold by Sears were marketed and sold under the name LIGHTMASTER.  In addition to Sears he picked up a number of hardware store distributors such as  Belknap Hdw., Louisville, KY, Orgill Bros., Memphis, TN, Janey, Simple, Hill Co., Minneapolis, MN, Witte Hardware, St. Louis, MO, Kruse Hardware, Cincinnati, OH.  All except Orgill have since closed as the chain stores have overcome them.  In the 1940's Farmor lamps were also offered through the Spiegel catalogue (1941-42?). 

Farmor lamps were exported to Central and South American countries by the Hardware Distributors who also sold them to local hardware stores here in the U.S. The largest at the time was Belkanp Hardware of Louisville, KY, which had a very large export department and printed their catalogs in those native languages.    The Farmor lamp company never directly exported as they were a small company. Some lamps were sold in Canada by the hardware distributors located in Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Seattle.

The Secony Mobile Oil corporation created a Sun Flame Ltd. division to sell Farmor lamps in other parts of the world. The Sun Flame division sold lamps under different names into different countries. Some were marked as Sun Flame lamps. Lamps sold in Australia were labeled as Sunny model 505 lamps. These lamps were Farmor manufactured burners with specially labeled brass wick adjuster knobs and for some lamps specially labeled filler caps. The supplier of glass fonts for Farmor produced fonts from one of the Farmor molds in white glass for use on the mobile oil lamps.

At the end of World War II Secony Mobile Oil saw an opportunity to sell a large number of inexpensive kerosene lamps into China. They contracted Farmor to design and manufacture a very inexpensive kerosene flat wick lamp that could be produced in large numbers. The result was the "Fu Manchu" lamp which was a small flat wick metal lamp using an Eagle burner manufactured by Plume and Atwood.  The Farmor lamp company sold more than one million of these "Fu Manchu" lamps between 1945 and 1948.  During that time Farmor directly sold "Fu Manchu" lamps within the U. S. under the Farmor name as an emergency lamp. Production of the "Fu Manchu" lamps ceased when China went communist and the United States government halted export products made from brass and aluminum to China.

The Farmor lamp company grew steadily from its founding in 1935 until early 1942 when brass became a restricted strategic commodity.  Farmor found it difficult to get brass to make burners until they received a government contract in 1944 from the U.S. War Department for 200 lamps to be sent to Oak Ridge, TN to be used in government built housing units.  These were the housing units that housed people working on the A bomb.  Farmor lamps manufactured during WWII had steel galleries and cone/baffle inserts.

Since Farmor was having problems getting brass during World War II they started a division to make a "Victory Rake".  With rationing of food throughout the US to help feed the troops, everyone was encouraged to plant a home garden for their own use.  These were called "Victory gardens".   Seeing a larger market in yard tools for victory gardens and later for the returning vets from WWII who purchased homes, the garden tools division grew.  It sold garden tools under the name Gardex. The Farmor Manufacturing company was renamed the Keller manufacturing company overseeing a Farmor lamp division and a Gardex garden tools division. With the rapid post WWII electrification of rural America sales of kerosene lamps rapidly declined.  By the end of the 1940's the Farmor lamp division of the Keller manufacturing company had ceased operations and all efforts were put into the growing Gardex garden tools division.  They now have 4th Generation family members employed in the business.  Keller Mfg./Gardex Co., 4324 Fyler Ave., St. Louis, MO 63116    www.gardexusa.com

A family affair:

Keller family
1938 picture of the founder Bill Keller, his wife, Nellie Keller and son Bill Keller Jr.  Bill Keller Jr. grew up to take over Keller manufacturing co. from his father.  His son, James Keller is currently the president of the company and the fourth generation, Brett Keller, is vice president of manufacturing.  Nellie's sister, Mary Jane Carter, was the company book keeper for the Farmor Manufacturing Co.

The histories of America's kerosene mantle lamp companies tend to be ephemeral in that a lot was never written down and no one saw the reason to keep what was written down beyond their immediate usefulness. Much of a company's history was tossed out when no longer needed in day to day commerce and never passed down from generation to generation. In the case of the Farmor Manufacturing Company I was fortunate that Bill Keller Jr. did not want to see the history of his family's company to get lost in time and reached out with information about the company and his father. Those of us who collect kerosene mantle lamps are fortunate in that we now have a more complete picture of the company and the man who started it all. Most of the time we only have old magazine advertisements and if lucky an old company brochure or catalogue that someone never got around to throwing out.

Mary Jane Carter obituary

 

From Bill Keller Jr:

My Dad was known for his "thrift", to the point we would kid him that "why buy a work bench if you can work on the floor". He was only 4'10" and never weighed more than 115 lbs., but on the telephone he sounded 6'6" tall and he had the energy and drive of two men. He never appreciated our teasing him about his extreme thriftiness. Much of which came from his experiences of living during the great depression and starting both as business and a family on a shoestring.

My Dad's favorite hobby was visiting antique shops, and at one time he had a (non electric) lamp collection that numbered into the 20's. I have one pull hanging lamp with 35 Chech. crystal prisms. His prize was a double arm ceiling kerosene lamp (the type cowboys where shown in movies swinging on), which has a center container for kerosene supply, with two brass tube that ran from it to the actual lamps on each end. This lamp did not have mantels, simply a wick that burned for light.

1500's whale oil lamp

One of his prized lamps was this whale oil lamp. The base is held on with hand made bolts and nuts. From what Dad learned, one would fill the rear opening with whale oil, and the front fonts had either a wick type material, or simple cloth, or nothing and burned throughout the day and evening. It was used as a fire source to light cook stoves, fire places, etc. He had it appraised by a lamp expert (now deceased) who dated it as sometime in the 1500's and used in Scanda/North Sea countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, N Germany, Netherlands, etc.)

I remember vividly when we visited my Aunt Helen, (who along with her husband had a livestock and grain farm outside Waverly, IL), during the war years of the 1940's and had no electric.  As dark arrived she would light up maybe 7-10 of Dad's mantel lamps, and when we were ready to retire, a lamp would be carried to each of 5 bedrooms (she lived in a three story farm home with a veranda around 3 sides).  When they arose before the crack of dawn to do chores, they would light the lamps and carry them down into the kitchen where a wood cook stove would be lit to make breakfast for the family and handymen.  Occasionally when I flip the light switch today in my home, that memory pops into my head as a reminder of life in a simpler time.

 

Farmor lamp wick adjusting knob
This is the common black plastic wick adjusting knob found on Farmor burners. Plastic, being a thermal insulator, was used as a way to keep the wick adjuster knob from getting uncomfortably hot during operation.

Broken Farmor wick adjustment knob
When the Farmor black plastic wick adjusting knob breaks you end up with this hexagonal brass knob.  If you see this you have a Farmor burner with a broken knob.

Farmor wick adjustment knob
An uncommon plastic knob with donut pattern.

Sun Flame wick adjusting knob
The burner on a Sun Flame lamp is a Farmor burner with a different wick adjuster knob.  The patent number is a Farmor patent.

 

 

 

 

 

Some Farmor mantle lamps
Some of the Farmor mantle lamps made between 1935 and 1946

See Farmor lamps, Page 2

 

Farmor burner:

Farmor burners were sold stand alone for use on any lamp with #2 or #3 threads.  The burner fits a standard #3 thread size.  A Farmor #2 thread reducing collar was available.

 

The Farmor burner is covered under US Patent 1938340 (acrobat file).  This patent was applied for on 5 March 1932 and granted on 5 December 1933 to William J. Keller of St. Louis, Mo. 
William Keller was also granted patent 2099608 on November 16, 1937.  This patent was submitted on September 20, 1935.  The first patent covered burner design in process, the second one covers the actual burner that was in production. Except the second flame spreader design apparently never went into production. Patent 2169735 was issued to Bill Keller on August 15, 1939. The patent was for a lantern that housed a Farmor burner and chimney inside. It was basically a ruggedized mantle lamp for use on the farm.  There is no indication that this lantern was ever put into production.  Patent 2150378 was applied for on August 6, 1937 and issued on March 14 1939.  This patent covers that lamp shade attachments to the Farmor maps.  The shade holder was part of the shade's top wire rim and not a separate part.

Farmor mantle lamp burner

The Farmor burner is a study in simplicity coupled with some innovative features that produced an incandescent mantle burner that has a tested rating of 110 candle power. Though some burners are marked as Model A and others are unmarked there was only a single basic burner design with few changes made during its production run

The good: This was an inexpensive to build burner that with its proper chimney was one of the brightest non pressurized incandescent burners on the market.  The burner used a unique wick tube and wick adjuster arrangement that produced an easy to adjust wick that very seldom will get stuck in the burner. The burner has a plastic knob that keeps temperatures down for easier adjustment of the wick when the burner is fully up to temperature.

The Bad: The plastic knob occasionally breaks. The top of the burner base that holds the gallery into place often gets vertical cracks in the brass, The cracks occur only on the top of the burner base where the burner base and gallery overlap. 

Farmor mantle light burner gallery

A few of the Farmor burner baskets have a set of four vertical pairs of dimples punched into the top where the gallery slides into.  It is thought that this might be an early attempt to mount a shade holder.

The Farmor burner makes extensive use of punched dimples to anchor parts together.

Farmor gallery markings

Some Farmor burners are unmarked and some Farmor burners are marked "MODEL A" with the early patent number and PAT PENDING below the patent number.

There are no identifiable changes between the unmarked and the model A marked burners. The second patent was granted in 1937 so the marking likely started sometime before 1937.

No company records survived that document the MODEL A markings.

There are two lengths of wick adjuster shafts. The shorter one on the left is the common length. The longer one on the right was evidently for lamp bases that had a wider collar area that would have made a short shaft knob hard to adjust.

Farmor lamp wick adjuster arms

label
Label that came on burners sold without lamps

Farmor lamp label
Label that was attached to Farmor lamp wick adjusting shafts (courtesy of Bill Courter)

Farmore lamp burner base

The gallery of a Farmor mantle lamp slides into the top of the burner and is held in place by friction. Here you can see the flame spreader and the removable top section of the outer wick tube.

The Farmor flame spreader is identical to the Coleman Ker-O-Lite flame spreader and is the same size as the Aladdin model 6 and Aladdin model 12 and newer flame spreader. An Aladdin flame spreader can be used in place of a Farmor flame spreader.

Farmor Flame Spreader
Farmore lamp burner base underside

In this underside view of the most common Farmor burner base you can see the  inner wick tube, underside of a  flame spreader and the 2 inverted U shaped arms that hold the inner wick tube to the burner base and allows air flow into the inner wick tube and up through the flame spreader. The inner wick tube is one inch in diameter.

The company founder and lamp designer Bill Keller was always experimenting with ways to improve the burner. Known for his frugality, if the experimental burners worked, they usually were put on lamps and sold. So there are a couple versions of burners out there where he experimented with different methods of getting air into the centre draft tube.

 

The plastic wick adjuster knob is molder over a hexagonal brass core that is soldered to the wick adjuster shaft.

Farmor Lamp chimney
The Farmor chimney is 15 inches tall, 2-5/8 inches dia. at the base and 2 inches dia. at the top

Top of Farmor outer wick tube
Removable top of the Farmor outer wick tube

Farmor Lamp wick tubes
Inner and outer wick tubes


The Farmor burner, like all round wick burners have concentric inner and outer wick tubes. The wick tubes have to be spaced so that the wick fits closely at the top where the flame is located. Most companies accomplish this with two straight tubes spaced closely together their entire length. The Farmor burner   has a wider spacing between the outer and inner wick tubes with a removable top outer wick tube that reduces the diameter of the tube down for the top where the flame is. The removable top is held to the outer wick tube by a twist lock on dimples protruding from the lower outer wick tube. The greater distance between the inner and outer wick tubes allows the wick to move more freely so adjustment requires less force. With the top of the inner wick tube removed, rewicking the burner is an easy task and allowing the wick greater space may allow it to wick up more kerosene than a tighter pressed together wick.

Farmor wck in lamp

The Farmor wick slips in from the top once the outer wick tube top piece is removed.  There is a ridge running down the inside of the outer wick tube that lines up the wick gear with the adjuster arm gear. Place the wick gear against the ridge and slide the wick down. 

The wick holder is permanently mounted to the wick with a series of staples.

Most wicks were sold uncharred.  Late wicks were charred.  The upper part of the wicks were dipped into a solution called (collodian - spelling?), which stiffened the upper round part of the wick so it could easily be fitted into burners.

Farmor wick box

Farmor wick

Farmor wick gear

The gear on the wick lines up with the gear on the adjusting shaft (see below right).  There is a wick retaining box that holds the gears in place.  A very simple yet effective arrangement

Farmor wick guide Farmore wick adjuster gear


There is a small ridge running down the inside of the outer wick tube that goes down to the edge of a wick gear retaining box. To install a wick you set the wick gear against the ridge and side the wick down into the retaining box and the gears are lined up and engaged. the ridge lines up the gears for easy insertion.

 

Farmor lamp gallery
Assembled Farmor gallery

Disassembled Farmor lamp gallery
Disassembled Farmor Gallery showing the gallery and cone/baffle.
The cone/baffle slips in from the bottom and is held in place by dimples on the side of the cone sitting just above the inside top edge of the gallery.

While most galleries and cone/baffles were made from brass, some galleries and cone/baffles are made from steel. These steel parts were likely made during WWII to conserve use of brass. I have one burner with a brass gallery and steel cone/baffle which suggests that they ran out of brass cones before they ran out of brass galleries.  I have a third burner that has a steel gallery, cone/baffle and wick adjuster shaft and gear.  As brass got harder to obtain Bill found additional parts that could be made from steel.

Fromor burner cone top view Fromore baffle bottom view


Combination cone and baffle sits inside the gallery. It attaches from the bottom and the outside tabs position it correctly against the underside of the gallery.

Farmor lamp gallery bottom view

There are two versions of the gallery.  The early version (LEFT) took a mantle just slips onto the cone and was held in place by friction and gravity. The later gallery version (right) used a mantle that locked onto tabs on the gallery.  When a lamp was being carried and was jarred hard enough to knock off the chimney the early style mantle tended to fall off too creating a fire hazard.  The new locking mantle would stay in place if the chimney was knocked off.  The cone on the new design gallery could accept both the new lock-on mantle and the old style mantle.

 

 

Farmor mantle mounted on lamp Late Farmor mantle with tab mounts mounted onto a burner

 

 

Sears Farmor mantle  Late Farmor mantle base
The later Farmor mantle has a bottom flange with tabs cut out.  The mantle base locks into tabs on the gallery to hold it in place.  This was a fairly early safety upgrade.

 

Farmore mantles
RIGHT: Farmor mantle manufactured by Lindsay    LEFT:  Farmor mantle manufactured by Welsbach
Farmor mantles were originally manufactured by Welsbach. After extensive bump testing in which the Lindsay mantle proved to be the more rugged mantle, Farmor switched over to Lindsay manufactured mantles mid 1939.  In their correspondence with Farmor, Lindsay mentioned their different mantle weave as being primarily responsible for its increased resistance to bumps. Picture courtesy of Bill Courter.

Farmor mantle made by Lindsay
In these two pictures you can see the weave difference between Lindsay mantles (above) and the Welsbach mantle (right).
Picture on right courtesy of Bill Courter.

Farmor mantle made by Welsbach

 

 

Some Advertising:

Farmor advertisement

Farmor dealer ad
        Individual hardware stores used this ad without the last paragraph for their own advertisements.

 

 

 

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