How did People Light their Homes before Light Bulbs?

How did People Light their Homes before Light Bulbs?

Did you know …

Flipping a switch on the wall causes a light to come on in our houses. We usually don’t even think about the lights until a light bulb burns out or a storm takes down the electricity. When the whole house goes dark, we might wonder what the early settlers did to light up their homes.


Many people made their own candles by dipping a wick into melted wax made from whale oil, beeswax, or tallow (a type of animal fat.) Candles were placed in candleholders and placed on tables around the room to provide light for cooking, cleaning, reading, or working. Candelabras, a candleholder holding many candles, provided a much stronger light than a single candle.

Oil lamps

A central burner holding a lighting fuel such as olive oil, beeswax, or whale oil was invented in the 18th century. A small glass chimney was added to protect the flame and control the flow of air.


Early lanterns were often square and plain, holding a single candle. Later lighting fuels were used. Doorway lanterns lit up the street as well as the entrance to a home. To provide for lighting in the streets, laws were passed in some towns that every sixth house had to post a lantern or a torch.


The warm glow from the fireplace not only provided heat for the home, but it also gave a source of light to the family living there.

– Sandra Merville Hart

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