Engine Room Lamps


Status
Not open for further replies.
Oct 28, 2000
3,242
550
388
Recently I've been studying the period of time during which the electric lights went dark in Titanic's engine rooms. Men were sent to fetch "lamps" from the engine room. From their testimonies, these appear to have been ordinary oil lamps of the type in common use at the time. Does anyone have specifics on their size, construction, etc.?

I had wondered why flashlights were not the first order of the blackout. It turns out that in 1912 flashlights simply lacked the staying power needed for long-term lighting. The name "flash light" comes from the fact that batteries failed quickly in use. So, the operator quickly learned only to "flash" light for a few seconds as needed. That was not the sort of illumination required in a darkened boiler room aboard a sinking ship.

For Americans, I also learned that a 35-year-old Russian immigrant, Conrad Hubert was nearly broke when he saw his fried Joshua Cowen demonstrate a novelty--a pot of immitation flowers that illuminated when two wires were connected. Inside the pot, Cowen had concealed a battery and a tiny light bulb. Hubert took the idea and developed it into an "electric hand torch" under the Ever Ready brand name.

Cowen, the man who electrified the flower pot, went on to a different sort of fame. His middle name as Lionel, after which Cowen named his company than built toy train sets.

None of that has anything to do with Titanic, except to establish the time period of events. Flashlights were still primative in 1912, hence the continuing dependence on lamps. Anyone have any information on those carried aboard Titanic?

-- David G. Brown
 

John Hemmert

Member
Oct 16, 2002
121
0
181
David,

From research on the "Republic", I learned that both portable and "fixed" kerosene lamps were a commonplace fixture on many WSL ships from this time period. (Actually saw some wall-mounted ones ell on eBay not too long ago) The fixed ones seemed mostly present in crew and steerage areas, whereas the portable ones were used for 1st & 2nd class passenger areas. The wall mounted ones were of "standard" size. (About 12" tall) The exact size and numbers of the portable ones I don't know. (They would have been for "emergency" use only, of course.)
But, the lamps did exist. A hold-over from more primitive times, they could be relied on when generators went out.

Hope that helps somewhat!
Best regards!
John.
 
Oct 28, 2000
3,242
550
388
John--similar lamps to the ones you describe from passenger cabins are still being made, mostly for decorative use. Many sailing yachts still depend upon oil lamps because of their limited battery supply--hence the need. An "authentic" old-fashioned lamp is considered a decorative nautical touch to any traditional cabin.

However, I am still a bit surprised that they did not have "emergency" lamps fitted to the bulkheads in the boiler rooms. That aspect of the lamp story is where my question was aimed. Fire safety may be the reason, although it is hard to see during the 1912 era in a room filled with raging furnaces and where glowing coals were raked on the deck.

To me the sight of a stoker walking around with a lamp like a milkmaid on her morning chores is..well, amusing. But, then I'm a child of the electric light. Most, if not all, of the crew of Titanic were familiar with oil lamps and probably did not find them at all incongruous aboard a "modern" ocean liner.

--David G. Brown
 

John Hemmert

Member
Oct 16, 2002
121
0
181
David,

I would have to agree... The only reason I could see for a lack of "fixed wall mount" kerosene/oil lanterns would probably be due to the relative fragility of the lanterns, and the fairly large amount of vibration in the engine areas. "Fire hazard" would be an odd reason, though not unconscionable with the vibration considered. (I think...)

I think I'm going to have to look into this one. Quite curious now, on "Republic", only hallway lanterns were mentioned.
After the collision, engineer Legg was allegedly up to his neck in water as he franticly opened the injector valves on the boilers to keep them from possibly blowing up. He was in "pitch darkness" at the time. I guess either there were no lanterns, they didn't have time to light them, or they were submerged by then.
(I checked all through "Steam At Sea" - no luck. Not a lantern in sight.)

Best regards!
John.
 

John Hemmert

Member
Oct 16, 2002
121
0
181
David,

Been racking my brains on this one. Have to come up with documentation for you regarding the kerosene lamps. But also remembered that in "Republic's" demise, one of the passengers had an actual flashlight. (He considered it a novelty til then, but found it quite useful after the generators cut out.) It was requisitioned by a steward and used in passenger evacuation. My apologies on no source reference, but I know it happened. Have to see if I can find it in all the mess that is my present research.

Best regards!
John.
 
Oct 28, 2000
3,242
550
388
I have found that lamps were lighted each evening and placed in the two "emergency" boats kept rigged outboard. These lamps were therefore ready for use should it be necessary, as in the case of someone falling overboard. Naturally, they had nothing to do with the engine room lamps. However, it appears that oil lamps were still preferred over flashlights in 1912 when it came to providing dependable illumination.

-- David G. Brown
 
Jun 10, 1999
1,284
21
313
In regards to falling overboard. Were the sailors of the period ('12) trained in the art of, I guess you could say "self-flotation"?.

What I am referring to is a sailor who was dislodged from his modern carrier.

I was blown-away when I learned of his miraculous recovery...in that his survival was attributed to the fact that he supplemented his pants as a flotation means....amazing!!

Michael A. Cundiff
USA
 

John Hemmert

Member
Oct 16, 2002
121
0
181
David,

I agree fully on the preference of lanterns over flashlights in that time period. I've seen (and even owned ) a flashlight from the WW-1 period. (I buy and sell militaria.)
The batteries were incredibly crude affairs with low duration and reliability. (I believe they were mainly acid/metal/paper sheathed affairs, greatly prone to leaking and eating through everything they came in contact with.)
The batteries Jack Binns (the Marconi man on the "Republic") had to use when the generators went out, I believe, "fumed" and had to be "trimmed" with water in order to get them going. Not anything like what one might expect.

Michael: There were still a good many sailors in that time period who couldn't swim. And yes, pants are a great flotation device when you're flung into deep water without a life preserver. It's a standard part of military training nowadays. Just remove pants, tie off the legs, inflate them, and hold onto the base. The wet cloth will hold air for a while, reinflate as needed...
Sounds silly, and looks REALLY weird, but it works!
happy.gif

I don't believe they received any training like that in 1912 though.

Best regards!
John.
 
Oct 28, 2000
3,242
550
388
Titanic arrived while the Age of Sail was still a dowager--alive but not well. There are several sea stories about ship captains of those tall clippers who asked prospective crew members if they could swim. The only acceptable answer was, "No sir, not a stroke." Men who could swim were often rejected.

The reason for this seeming paradox was the difficulty of rescuing someone who went over from a full-rigged ship. It could take several hours to wear around and come back to pick up the victim. Launching a boat meant risking too many men on short-handed merchant vessels. And, even if a boat was put down, the ship still had to be brought around and hauled back to the scene if to do nothing more than pick up the would-be rescuers. The odds of rescuing a single head (all that can be seen) in the vast ocean were overwhelmingly against success. In most cases the crew would spend eight or more hours at hard labor trimming sails and hauling on boat tackles for naught.

So, to avoid the whole messy project, some captains would choose only non-swimmers for their crews. If someone did go by the board, the captain could justify not going back by saying, "he couldn't swim, so we would not have found him anyway."

By Titanic's day, there was more acceptance of modern ideas like rescuing victims. However, I seriously doubt that White Star would have gone to the expense of lighting lamps (oil is expensive) just in case a crew member fell overboard. Those boats were rigged and ready for passenger misadventures. The shipping line did not want any bad publicity that would arise if a millionaire fell overboard from a vessel powerless to attempt a rescue. I doubt than anyone in the company was foolish enough to think that every victim would be brought sputtering back aboard. But, an attempt...and preferrably a "showy" attempt...at rescue would have to be made. Launching an emergency boat in the dark of night with an officer in the bow holding a light like Diogenes would have been such a show.

But, back to the issue of oil lamps on an ocean liner with 10,000 light bulbs. It's true irony that they had only the antiquated flame and the newest electric power distribution system to obtain light, but nothing in between. Of course, modern flashlights or automatic battery emergency lighting would have made a great difference in the outcome of the evening. It's just the irony of Bronze Age technology being used on Titanic.

-- David G. Brown
 

Tom Bates

Member
Aug 16, 2002
254
2
183
Titanic had two emergency generators each 30kW 100V DC at the saloon deck level could they have been used instead of oil lamps? Dave said (But, back to the issue of oil lamps on an ocean liner with 10,000 light bulbs. It's true irony that they had only the antiquated flame and the newest electric power distribution system to obtain light, but nothing in between. Of course, modern flashlights or automatic battery emergency lighting would have made a great difference in the outcome of the evening.) it's possble
 
Oct 28, 2000
3,242
550
388
Tom, you got cut off.

The need for lamps in the boiler rooms was obviated when the electric lights came on again. The ship's lighting system performed properly right up until there was no Titanic to illuminate. I don't think that more boats would have been launched or more people saved if modern battery lights had been available. The work might have been eased, but they got the job done that night as it was.

Since all of the lights went out in the boiler rooms at the same time...but no other lights went out...it is most logical to assume that the problem was one of distribution and not generation. I'm betting that the flooding of boiler room #6 had something to do with it. Possibly the salt water in the wiring caused excessive drain of current. It appears that somebody turned off the whole branch feeding all of the boiler rooms and was then corrected to shut off only the individual circuit in trouble.

-- David G. Brown
 
Jul 9, 2000
58,666
881
563
Easley South Carolina
Tom, the short answer to that would be "no."

The generators were rigged to electrical appliances and lights that were hardwired to the ship. The whole idea behind emergency lamps is to have something portable that you can walk around with. This leaves one with two possibilities as to the "power" source: oil fired lamps or battery powered lanterns/flashlights.

Given the very primitive state of battery technology back then, it's not surprising that they opted for the oil fueled lamps.
 

John Hemmert

Member
Oct 16, 2002
121
0
181
David,

A final note on flashlight batteries at that time: As they were not what one would call "sealed", they would have not only been extremely prone to draining even during storage, but would have been very vulnerable to salt air, not to mention immersion in salt water. Their total lack of reliability in maritime use would have negated any shipping line's interest in them. Add to that the fact that they were relatively expensive, and one can definitely see the advantage the old reliable kerosene lanterns.
On Marconi sets, the batteries were more like car batteries. (I believe they're called "voltaic"?) They were glass jars with metal plates and acid in them. (Just add water) There would have been two screw-down contact posts at the top to allow the use of generated current. They would have been, no doubt, totally unsuitable for lighting purposes, especially one of a 'portable" type.

Best regards!
John.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Similar threads

Similar threads