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Types of Vintage Lanterns that Work Great in an Emergency

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Vintage Emergency Lanterns

Old-fashioned lanterns are often used to decorate our homes, reminding us of a time when we couldn’t rely on electricity to light our way.

Vintage and antique lanterns are still found in a variety of designs, while modern replicas of vintage lanterns are also easily available.

If you are new to prepping for an emergency, you might want to consider adding a few working vintage lanterns to your home so you can have light even when the power is out

Vintage lamps can be used as a source of emergency lighting for your home and will blend in nicely with most types of home decor. Lamps such as Betty lamps, center draft lamps, hurricane lamps, and small globe railroad lamps are easy to find in both vintage and modern styles. These types of vintage lamps can be used with a variety of fuels, such as kerosene, lamp oil, and even fat or vegetable oil, in a pinch. 

In this article, I’ll talk about a few different types of vintage lamps that work great to light your home in an emergency. We’ll talk about the history of these lamps, which ones work best, and what types of fuel you can use.

But first, let’s look at why you might want to use a vintage lantern for light in an emergency. 

Why Use Vintage Lanterns when the Power Is Out

I certainly have my share of flashlights stashed around my home, but they aren’t my only means of creating light when the power is out. I also have a stockpile of candles, a woodstove, rechargeable headlamps, and of course, an oil lamp

It isn’t unusual for my kids to grab a flashlight and then completely forget to turn it off, leaving the batteries totally depleted. And in a long-term emergency, or during a time when supply chains are broken or you can’t get to the store, you might even run out of batteries, making a flashlight pretty useless.

So it’s essential to have a backup plan to light your home even if you have flashlights available. 

Vintage lanterns are great to use a s a backup light source because they make pretty décor that is suitable for just about any style. Even better, many vintage lanterns will work with a variety of fuel types.

For example, you might need to use kerosene, vegetable oil, or even animal fats to light your home in an emergency if you run out of lamp oil. Also, a vintage lamp will be much less obvious to non-preppers than a solar array or fancy emergency light system. And, of course, reusing vintage items when possible is good for the environment and cuts down on unnecessary waste. 

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular and well-known vintage lamps that are great for emergency use. 

The Betty Lamp

Betty Lamp

The Betty Lamp came into popularity for home use in the 18th century. They were invented during a time when resources were pretty scarce. These lamps were typically made of iron or brass and were constructed in such a way as to prevent the fuel from being wasted. They used wicks made from twisted cloth and typically burned fish oil or fat. 

Betty lamps had a hook so you could hang them on the wall. They were very inexpensive to light since they usually used scrap fat from the kitchen. However, they weren’t exceptionally bright, and they often produced greasy smoke due to impurities in the fat. 

Today, Betty Lamps are often used with vegetable oil for cleaner-burning fuel. 

The Center Draft Lamp 

Center draft lamps are characterized by a glass tube that provides an air draft for the oil to burn. They also had circular wicks and a flame spreader to create a brighter light. Center draft lamps came in a variety of shapes and sizes and were designed to be used with “Low Odor Mineral Spirits,” however, the larger lamps can be used with kerosene. 

It’s important to burn these lamps at their higher intensities. When the lamps are turned down low, they can produce an odor that you don’t get when the flame burns a little hotter. 

These were popular in the late 1800s, but many of these vintage lamps are still useable today if you find them at flea markets and estate sales. 

You can see a video on how the center draft lamp works here:

YouTube video

Hurricane Lamps

Hurricane lamps were invented around 1780, but the son of a Swiss watchmaker, Francois-Pierre Aime Argand. They were used in homes as a backup source of light well into the 1950s when most homes had electricity available but not batteries or solar power. 

These lanterns were called hurricane lamps or storm lanterns because the shape of the globe surrounding the flame protected them from blowing out during a harsh wind or storm. These lamps are sturdy and create a bright (but adjustable) flame. They can burn a variety of fuels – kerosene, paraffin, or lamp oil. You can find vintage lamps at flea markets or purchase modern replicas that work just as well. 

You can see a video on how the hurricane lamp works here:

YouTube video

Hurricane lamps are one of the best types of vintage lamps to light your home. They are durable, easy to find, and very well designed, which is one of the reasons these lamps are still manufactured today. 

Similar to hurricane lamps, railroad lanterns come in several different types. 

Railroad Lanterns

Railroad Lanterns

Conductors and rail men used railroad Lanterns to signal other trains or train stations at night. There were a variety of railroad lanterns that served different purposes.

Railroad lanterns typically had a wire cage to protect the globe, a chimney, and a base. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find railroad lanterns with their original globes. 

Fixed Globe Lanterns

Fixed globe railroad lanterns were popular around the time of the Civil War and originated in the northeast, where the oldest railroads were located. Unfortunately, the globe was not easily removable from this type of lantern. 

Tall Globe Lanterns 

Tall Globe lanterns were invented by William Westlake around 1870 and used until the time of the first world war. Their globes were up to 6 inches tall, making the lamps ideal for burning signal oil. These are very rare today and are sought after by collectors. 

Short Globe Lanterns 

Short globe lanterns became popular after World War 1 and continued to be used into the 1960s. The smaller globe made these more suitable for use with kerosene, which was a popular fuel during that time.

Short globe lanterns became popular during the heyday of the American railroad. And although they are less popular with high-end collectors, they are commonly available and still usable today. 

How to Use a Vintage Lantern for Emergencies 

If you’re going to use a vintage lantern for emergencies, you’ll need to practice using it ahead of time. Make sure you follow all of the safety protocols necessary to operate your lantern safely! 

Also, make sure that your lamp is in good working order, that you have the appropriate lamp fuel on hand, and that you know how to light your lamp and extinguish it when you are done. Finally, use it periodically, so you always know that it works! 

Never remove the globe from your lantern while it is still hot – always wait for the globe to cool before removing it to clean. 

  1. To light a hurricane lamp, raise the globe with the lever, light your match, and touch it to the wick. It should light easily. 
  2. Adjust the wick so that it isn’t too high because otherwise, it will create a lot of soot inside the globe. 
  3. To extinguish the flame, raise the globe with the lever (don’t touch it, it might be hot!) and blow it out. 
YouTube video
James Schooling gives excellent information on cleaning and using your old-fashioned lantern here.

You may want to research your specific lantern to make sure you know exactly what kind of fuel you can use.  

Final Thoughts

Vintage lamps can add beauty and ambiance to your home and campsite, but they also have a practical purpose. These old-fashioned lamps are an excellent backup light source for your home as long as they are used safely and with care. 

What alternate fuels can I use in my lantern? 

The answer depends on what type of lantern you have. Lamp oil is typically a good substitute for kerosene in a lamp because it burns cleaner and with less odor. Because it is purer, it is also more expensive. However, some lamps can also accommodate: 
Olive oil
Nut oil
Hemp oil 
Vegetable oil 
Fish oil 
Castor oil 

What lamp oils should be avoided? 

If you are burning a lamp indoors, you do not want to use citronella oil or tiki torch oil due to the smoke and particulates they can create as they burn. Those oils can be used outdoors, though. 

Where can I buy vintage lamps? 

Flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, thrift stores, and military surplus stores can all be good places to find vintage lamps. In addition, modern replicas can be purchased at hardware stores, Amish goods stores, and even hobby shops. 

Photo of author


Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years has become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness.