The use of oil as fuel
Vegetable oil would be used as the main fuel in the first lighthouses. It was basically made up of rapeseed oil and very often mixed with other oils, i.e., olive, linseed, fish, whale (spermaceti), ravinson, cameline, broad bean, rabette and cattlecake.
From 1820 onwards, tests were carried out by Augustin Fresnel and François Arago, in order to measure the quality of oils. They would perfect the first multi-wick burners used in lighthouses. Rapeseed oil would be used exclusively up until 1875, when it was replaced with mineral oil (petroleum). This would be used initially in smaller lamps from the 1860s, due to the risks of explosion.
Vegetable oil lamps had 2, 3, 4 and then 5 wicks and a mechanical winding system and pumps which allowed constant feeding of the lamp’s burner by excess oil.
There were different types of winding mechanisms:
Pumps and clock movement winding system with blade regulators,
Pumps and plug release - cam type,
From 1836, pumps with clock movement with blade regulator, 4 pistons with leather valves,
Pumps and clock movements with 4 pistons with metallic valves.
Source: Instructions... Léonce Reynaud (1842)
After the 1850s, new lamps with a central piston came into use.
Three lamps were compulsory in each lighthouse. The use of mineral oil would mean that 5-wick lamps could be used (after 1875).
Find out more :
- Lamp burners (Format pdf - 51.5 kb - 15/02/2008)
- Oil reservoirs (Format pdf - 48.8 kb - 15/02/2008)