Gas and paraffin lighting remained most common in the 1920s. Electric light was not widely available until the National Grid provided a widespread domestic electricity supply. First proposed by the Weir Commission in 1925, the grid was not achieved until 1934. Gas lighting was not usually installed throughout the house -- especially not in bedrooms where it was thought unsafe. It would have been used in hallways, where visitors received their first impression of a home.
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Paraffin oil had become widely available after the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859. By the early 20th century, oil lighting had been improved by incandescent mantles, air diffusers and pressurised fittings. Incandescent mantles were first developed for use with gas lighting. Made of cotton dipped in chemicals, they glowed when heated, increasing light output and efficiency and staving off competition from electricity.
Gas for the working class
As electricity came into vogue, gas companies responded by recruiting new customers from amongst the urban working classes. Gas became the predominant lighting in poorer homes after the introduction of "penny-in-the-slot" meters in the 1890s. According to the National Trust, by 1920 Britain had 8 million gas consumers, over half of whom had coin-fed meters. In the early 20th century, inverted burners were introduced, allowing gas light, like electric light, to be focused downward. Gas lighting did not decline in popularity until the mid 1930s.
Electric for the affluent
Britain's first home lit by electricity was Cragside, Northumberland in 1880. However the price of electric lighting was inflated by the monopoly held by the merged Edison and Swan Company. The National Trust records that economic, more efficient bulbs were not available in Britain until after 1914. New houses were built with electric lighting from around 1913, but these were few and expensive. Although the 1926 Electricity Supply Act widened availability, supply remained haphazard until the introduction of the National Grid.
For halls with electric lighting, suspended fixtures were usual. According to the American Craftsman Lighting Company, the preponderance of chain-suspended light fixtures in the 1920s was due to the invention of cloth-covered stranded wire. Before this, installers could not safely thread electrical wiring through a metal chain. Between 1920 and 1930 suspended fixtures were made in Arts Deco style. Commonly they had between three and five arms, affixed to a central circular frame. Glass globe shades and wall sconces were popular.
Because electricity gave off higher illumination, electrical globe fittings could also be positioned at ceiling height. Deco wall lighting -- the height of fashion for wealthy families -- featured fan-shaped shades. A typical Deco lamp for a hall table would be a female figurine, supporting a lighted globe. Alternately, an Art Deco electric chandelier made a bold statement in an entrance hall.
Fittings were of brass, copper, steel or bronze. Art Deco style featured sleek, expensive chrome fittings. Shades were of glass or parchment. Glass might be frosted, etched, crackled or coloured. Art Deco shades featured strong colours -- often black and white -- and geometric designs. In the early days of electricity it was also common to omit shades -- the incandescent bulbs themselves were considered decorative.
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- The National Trust: Lighting by Oil
- The National Trust: Lighting by Gas
- The National Trust: Lighting by Electricity
- The Institute of Engineering and Technology Online Exhibition: Lighting the Home
- General Electric 1920's Lighting Catalogue
- Craftsman Outdoor Lighting: A Brief History of Lighting in the U.S.
- The Telegraph; Upstairs Downstairs; Caroline McGhie; January 2007
- Art Deco Style: Art Deco Lighting
- BBC Homes: Art Deco (c. 1908 -- 1935)
- Universal Lighting: Art Deco Lighting: Art Deco Lamps
- Universal Lighting: Art Deco Ceiling Lights
- Period Style Lighting company: Art Deco Lighting
- Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers Heritage Group: Cragside, Northumberland
- The Building Conservation Directory; Rewiring Cragside; Sarah Schmitz and Caroline Rawson; 2006
- The National Trust: Introduction to Lighting
- The National Trust: History of Lighting
- "Popular Art Deco Lighting"; Herb Millman and John Dwyer; 2004
- "Art Deco Interiors"; Patricia Bayer; 1998