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Do You Know What A Gas Lantern Mantle Is?

Do you know what a gas lantern mantle is?

Gas lanterns, or gas lamps, are popular around here in neighborhoods that are made to look old fashioned.

They provide the street lights via little pear-shaped cones called mantles. 

You can see two mantles in the street lamp in the front yard of this house. 

One mantle was lit, and the other damaged to the point where it would no longer provide light. 

When the mantles get too old, or brittle, they no longer have a structure and can no longer glow or get bright.

Also called incandescent gas mantles, gas mantles, or Welsbach mantles, they are exactly similar to the little camping lanterns I used as a Boy Scout decades ago.  As children we were exposed to highly flammable lantern fluid, and the little incandescent mantles which were radioactive.  IT'S AMAZING WE CHILDREN OF THAT ERA MADE IT TO ADULTHOOD... (says he with utter sarcasm**).

The mantles were radioactive?  The little pouches are/were made of silk, or synthetic silk (called rayon), and were impregnated with metal nitrates (salts) to give the mesh rigidity.  As the mesh heats up the metal salts become rigid providing structure to the mesh.  And light is produced.

Thorium dioxide was a major component, and is slightly radioactive, which in today's world would cause utter commotion and lead to safety recall thoughts except it's been proved safe.

In reality the levels of radioactivity are minimal.  But the mantles glow brightly (in the visible spectrum) and can be seen from great distances.

The modern gas mantle was invented by Carl Auer von Welsbach, a chemist who studied rare earth elements, and created the Welsbach mantle which he patented in 1885.  In 1891 he discovered that thorium dioxide produced a much whiter light and stronger mesh and reinvented his product.

Until the introduction of public electricity in the early 1900s this kind of gas lantern was used for street lighting in most cities.

My recommendation:  sometimes old-school things are used in modern contexts.  In this case the house street lights were made to look very turn of the century.  Repairing the broken mantle is not difficult, as they can be found in any sports store where camping lanterns are sold.

**  How did we children ever survive!?  My little child Timex wristwatch used radioactive radium for the hour and minute hands, and number dots, so I could tell the time in the dark.  We kids played guns almost every day.  Our gun games included cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, WWII, and Civil War.  And we had period guns for whichever game we were playing that day.  You will notice that our generation has had the LEAST problem with gun violence.  And as a Boy Scout I used a latrine at camp very similar to the one in the diagram above, which came out of my 1966 Boy Scout Manual.  We did have toilet paper, though.



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comment balloon 7 commentsJay Markanich • June 14 2017 08:36AM


Thankfully you had toilet paper and didn't have to use poison ivy or something!

Thanks for the interesting post about gas mantles!

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty) over 3 years ago

Despite all our training, some kids at camp had bad run ins with poison ivy, Kat.  And in South America we used newspaper as TP was often unavailable!  And glad you liked the post!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay. And so many of us survived cars without seat belts and bicycles without helmets! I was a bad Boy Scout! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) over 3 years ago

This may be the case of too much information but I do remember how hot the trend was growing up.

Posted by Joe Pryor, REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties (The Virtual Real Estate Team) over 3 years ago

I used to have a couple of those old camping lanterns... you're right, it is a miracle we survived those times!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 3 years ago

Wow, what an informative post.  Thanks.

We too had a "camp" which was built by my Grandfather during the depression.  It was between Cumberland and Paw Paw.  No heat, no air, running water was here's a bucket, go down to the pump.  And of course, a classic two holer for doing our business.  Entertainment was hiking, swimming in the creek and playing cards.  Hearts, canasta, spades and rummy.  Those were the best years of my life.

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) over 3 years ago

Wayne - the singular reason seat belts did not go into vehicles for so long was due to one man - Lee Iococca.  Then he fought against seat belts with shoulder straps.  My brother and I used to ride on the ledge inside the rear window.  I remember growing too large to be able to do that, and he got it to himself.

The post is too much information Joe?  I tried to make it brief!  It's less than 500 words.  But still, I hope it's informative.

The days of the popular gas lantern mantle was the same era and the same days as the popular Mickey Mantle, Fred.

Thanks, Stephen.  I have been to Paw Paw, and actually ate paw paws from a bush in the woods there!  The simple times are always the most nostalgic.



Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

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