The 1930s was an era of turmoil and change. The end of prohibition, the decline of the glamorous Jazz Age and the powerful grip of the Great Depression impressed upon the nation a sense of despair and a need for perseverance. Lighting fixtures during this time varied wildly based on economics and location. Rural areas still had poor access to electricity and so many lighting fixtures relied on the fuel sources from previous eras.
Kerosene and Oil
Kerosene lanterns and lamps were made of aluminium, brass, glass, nickel-plated brass and enamelled metals in many colours. Lanterns and lamps boasted glass globes to cover the flame and wick. Oil lamps were also standard, especially in rural areas. President Roosevelt implemented a rural electrification program during the later part of the 1930s. Until that time power lines had not reached most rural areas throughout the country, and even when electricity was provided, many families could not afford the services. Kerosene and oil were purchased for tabletop lanterns and lamps whose styles were similar if not identical to styles of previous eras.
Gas fixtures gained popularity in the mid-1800s to about 1920. Craftsman Outdoor Lighting reports that early gas lighting fixtures resembled kerosene lamps. Gas was supplied to the lighting fixtures by systems of tubes. Gas lighting fixtures consisted of table lamps, wall sconces and chandeliers. Electric wiring began to be installed in homes around the turn of the century, but most homes relied on a combination of gas and electricity due to the sporadic supply of electricity. Gas fixtures were in wide use during the 1930s because many homes were never updated until electricity became more reliable toward the end of the decade.
Once FDR implemented his modernisation and electrification projects, the power grid became more reliable. Electricity was seen as safer than gas and coveted, though many families crushed by the economic depression could not afford to pay for the services. Craftsman Outdoor Lighting says many early electric light fixtures consisted of a chain and a socket. The fixture was operated by pulling a chain and may or may not have had a globe or glass shade to protect the bulb. In wealthier households, electricity meant new styles of table lamps, installed wall sconces and ceiling-hung fixtures. Zigzags, lightning bolts and other bold patterns dominated lighting fixture designs for those that could afford the upgrades.
Art Deco Styles
For those households with ample income, the 1930s saw a rise in an art movement known as Art Moderne, which would later be known as Art Deco. This style yielded lighting fixtures featuring bright colours of stained glass and enamelled shades, chrome and black metals and, dominating everything, geometric and futuristic designs of skyscrapers and aeroplanes. The highly stylised sculptures of robe-clad or naked women holding etched or sandblasted glass globes were popular tabletop lighting fixtures. John Pile's book, "A History of Interior Design", says makers of electric lighting fixtures claimed the new lighting saved eyesight. Light bulbs evolved during this time from incandescent tubular sources to fluorescent bulbs. Lighting fixtures consisted of wall sconces, hanging lamps and tabletop lamps.
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- North Central College Terry Marsh; Coleman Lanterns 1931-1945; 2011
- Craftsman Outdoor Lighting: A Brief History of Lighting in the U.S.
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- "A History of Interior Design"; John F. Pile; 2003
- British Broadcasting Company; Homes Art Deco; October 2007
- Antique Marks; Art Deco; 2010