Excerpted from The Chronicle, Vol. XVII no. 3, September 1964
The tin lamps and torches often used for Political Campaigns, were mainly used for religious, industrial
and theatrical purposes. The name “torch” is applied to lamps used in the open air; normally they have a single, large wick.
Political campaigns with all their “ballyhoo” came into their own during the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. At this time, tin plate was the most practical metal for lamp and torch-making and it has continued in general use throughout the 19th century. The early types of torches were quite stationary such as the NO SWIVEL type; later a SEMI-SWIVEL torch which could turn in one direction was used. By 1861, during Lincoln’s campaign, FULL-SWlVEL torches, which could remain in an upright position no matter how the handle may be turned, were used.
For night gatherings FOOTLlGHTS may have been borrowed from the local theater or “opera house.” Platforms were also illuminated by MULTI-LIGHT torches which were borrowed from churches or other meeting places.
The fuel for these lamps varied with the times. Whale oil was an early 19th century illuminant. When the lighting qualities of camphene, a mixture of turpentine and alcohol, were discovered, the same time torch burned this fuel. With the distillation of petroleum during the mid-19th century, inexpensive kerosene which had a bright light was almost universally used in political campaign torches.
At various times bizarre forms of campaign lights were used. An example of this is the ROOSEVELT SAFARI HAT with lamp. This was used as a symbol during the unsuccessful 1912 Presidential campaign by the Progressive Party candidate, ex-president Teddy Roosevelt.
Torches were still used occasionally during the political campaigns of the early 20th century. Their use has been mainly in non-political parades and processions. The Mardi Gras parades of New Orleans still use some of the aforementioned types.
[Editor’s note: We are indebted to Old Museum Village of Smith’s Clove, for the above article and pictures. They have recently completed an exhibition of campaign lighting to acknowledge a different aspect of political campaigns. We feel this is most appropriate at this time.]