At the turn of the 20th century, light was still considered a somewhat supernatural commodity. Edison’s light bulb remained a work-in-progress, and the grid to power his new invention barely existed. Thus, a product that would provide users with safe, predictable, and economical illumination needed a name that suggested nothing short of a miracle, like the one that surprised a young lad in a cave, as told in the famous Middle-Eastern folk tale about a boy and his magic lamp. Thus, in 1908, Aladdin Industries Inc. was born.
Founded as the Mantle Lamp Company of America, Aladdin was one of the first U.S. companies to manufacture a kerosene lamp that produced incandescent light by heating a mantle, which is a small piece of cloth that’s been soaked in a variety of metal oxides. The mantle would be heated until it was white hot and glowed, and unlike other fuel lamps of the day, the Aladdin lamp did not require pumping to keep the fuel tank pressurized, it produced no smoke or odor, and the light source itself did not flicker.
The Mantle Lamp Company actually started out selling Practicus table lamps imported from Germany, but by 1909, it had introduced its first Aladdin lamp, which quickly made the company famous. Chicago-based Aladdin hired Plume & Atwood of Waterbury, Connecticut, to build its first brass table lamps, a practice that continued into the 1920s.
Aladdin’s earliest lamps had tall glass chimneys and brass- or nickel-plated bases. The first few models went unmarked, but beginning with Model 5 in 1913, the model number was stamped on the lamp’s wick-raising knob. Of the early models, the first lamps made between 1909 and 1910 are the toughest to collect, but the Model 2 lamps made between September and December of 1910 are actually fairly common. Also tough to find are Models 3 (1911 to 1912) and 10 (1921 to 1922).
In 1919, Aladdin began to diversify its product line, producing thermoses and other domestic items that would eventually lead to its dominance of the school-lunch-box market in the 1950s. But more important to lamp collectors was the purchase, in 1926, of Lippincott Glass. This acquisition allowed Aladdin to manufacture its own chimneys, lampshades, and bases, whose designs are still considered classics of the form.
The vase kerosene lamps from 1930 to 1935 are among the most collectible. Because these lamps had a removable brass fuel pot, the glass bases were prone to chipping, which makes a pristine Aladdin vase lamp from this period a real find. Of these, the short (8 ½-inches tall) Florentine is perhaps the most prized. It was produced in moonstone glass in green, white, or rose (the insides of these vases were painted white, which was even more prone to wear and tear than the vases themselves).
Also collectible are the Venetian Art Craft lamps from this period, especially the ones from 1932 with the so-called straw finishes. Taller than the Florentines, the Venetian Art...
Later in the decade, in 1938, Aladdin introduced its Vertique line, which, like the Venetians, featured lamps that were made of two pieces, only this time the joint was masked by a decorative metal band. Named for the lamp’s vertical ridges, Vertiques were sold in a range of colors including yellow, whose uranium coloring in the glass glowed in the dark when exposed to a black light.
That same year, an ivory, opalescent glass called Alacite was introduced. For the first few years of the product’s life, it was also colored with uranium oxide, but the recipe for the glass changed in 1942 when uranium was reserved for the nation’s war effort. Today, collectors talk about "old formula" and "new formula" when they describe a piece of Alcalite in their collections. Like the yellow Vertiques, old-formula Alcalites glow under a black light.
Old or new, Alacite was a very successful glass for Aladdin. In fact, the most popular Aladdin kerosene lamp ever made was the Alcalite tall Lincoln drape, made throughout the 1940s.
Aladdin made lots of other glass kerosene lamps, the Washington Drape and Simplicity being just two of the most enduring styles. But the company also made one kerosene lamp out of porcelain. Called the Victoria, the lamp featured the same floral decal found on some of the Simplicity models, and had gold-painted bands on its fluted pedestal.
The range of Aladdin electric lamps from the 1930s to the mid-1950s is no less varied than that of its kerosene models. With glass bases and Whip-o-Lite or Parvelour parchment shades, these boudoir, table, and floor lamps came in a dizzying array of shapes and styles. Vogue was one of the company’s most popular brand names, although many adults probably know Aladdin for the Hopalong Cassidy lamps and nightlights they may have had as kids. In addition to moonstone (its trade name was actually Aladex) and Alacalite, some of Aladdin’s lamps were made of a glass called Velvex, which had a mottled appearance.
Other Aladdin electric lamps were made out of an opalescent glass called Opalique, which was a play on both the appearance of the glass and a nod to the famous French designer René Lalique. In fact, Aladdin produced numerous Art Deco, Lalique-inspired lamps, whose bases often featured nudes—from the sculptural G-70 model to the pair of crystal nudes on the G-163 to the G-77 Susie lamp, whose base itself was illuminated, although these are rare and difficult to find.
By 1956, Aladdin had made its last electric lamps. The company continued to manufacture kerosene lamps in the United States until 1963, when brass bases began to be imported from England. By 1977 all manufacturing had moved to Hong Kong, and in 1999, Aladdin Industries sold its legendary lamp division to a group of investors, who renamed their business Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company and continue to produce non-electric Aladdin lamps today.