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Carbide lamps


Carbide lamps began replacing candles as the primary source of light around 1914. At first it appears that these lamps were initially used by bosses and engineers. It did not take long until all workers were using them. The first documented reference of carbide lamps being used by the general workforce was August 21, 1915. The newspaper reported George Holland, an escapee from the local jail purchased a lamp from a miner coming off shift and headed into the Neptune mine in order to escape out the distant, but connected Hoatson mine. *

These lamps work on the chemical reaction of water and calcium carbide produces acetylene, a gas which is flammable. A carbide lamp has an upper chamber that holds water and a lower chamber that holds the rock-like, calcium carbide. The water is adjusted to drip into the lower chamber. When the acetylene gas is produced it feeds through a metal tube and out a ceramic burner tip in the center of a reflector. The gas is ignited and with a few adjustments a steady bright flame is produced.

The lamps were made in two basic sizes, a small cap lamp that could burn approximately 3 hours on a charge of carbide and a larger hand lamp that lasted six hours. Cap lamps were popular with men like mule drivers who moved about frequently. Miners in stopes preferred the larger hand lamps which became known in Bisbee as “stope lamps”

Both cap and stope  “ Lu-mi-num” style carbide lamps

Around 1916 Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company purchased several hundred of the cast aluminum “Little Giant “style lamps.  Justrite Manufacturing Company replaced the words “Little Giant” with Copper Queen.

A Copper Queen and Little Giant Lamps

A Copper Queen Lamp at the entrance to the 3rd level of the Southwest mine

A Copper Queen Style lamp in a 1925 safety photo,. Note that the burner tube has been amputated and a striker has been added.

Modified Copper Queen lamps. The example on the left has had the burner tube amputated and the lamp hook is attached to the bail with a bent 8 d nail. The other lamp has had the reflector drilled to add a striker, which caused the reflector to chip. Also a striker wheel (broken) was attached to the flame protector. It could have never function as a flint striker at this location and was probably used to strike matches against. The water feed handle on this lamp has been replaced by an 8d nail.

Carbide lamps were actually fragile for the harsh mining environment and often need repairs. At shaft stations and underground tool rooms powder boxes of old and broken lamps were kept to salvage parts. The bottoms of the lamps were regularly used as grease cans.

Boxes of carbide lamps parts from tool rooms

     In 1938 Phelps Dodge converted the Campbell and Junction mines to Edison electric cap lamps. By 1944 all mines were using electric cap lamps After this time, carbide lamps were relegated for personal use such as, hunting, camping or sat in garages. Copper Queen lamps were still appreciated and many were added to the areas numerous mineral collections or kept as a memento of working in the mines.



*He wanted to go from the Neptune mine to the Lowell mine and then over to the Hoatson where his brother was working.  Unknown to George the connection had been back filled. He did escape out of the mines and was not recaptured.

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