Hanging lamps, which include everything from single pendants to elaborate chandeliers, have illuminated interior spaces for thousands of years. The earliest examples were made of clay and fueled by animal fat. Later, oil was used to fire bronze or glass fixtures.

By the Middle Ages, metal chandelier-like fixtures called polycandelons were hung from the ceilings of churches and other public structures. Some held bowls filled with oil and wicks while others were designed for candles. In fact, the word “chandelier” has its roots in the Latin word for “candle.” Early chandeliers and polycandelons were usually attached to a rope or cable that was looped through a pulley so they could be lowered to be lit, raised into position, then lowered again so candles and wicks could be snuffed.

Gas lamps, which were introduced in the early 1800s, are normally associated with sconces, but hanging gas lamps, called gasoliers, were also used in homes that could afford this newfangled technology. Next came kerosene in 1857. Again, even though we associate kerosene lamps with the chimney-style table lamps made by Aladdin and others, the fuel was also used in hanging Victorian Era lamps.

Because of the heat generated by kerosene and gas lamps, flames were contained by etched glass of various colors—from frosted white to ruby red to multicolored slag—while the lamp’s hardware was typically made of brass. There must have been concerns at the time about the safety of kerosene lamps since they were often advertised as being “non-explosive,” but kerosene lamps burned brighter than gas, so for many the risk was worth it.

While some 19th-century kerosene lamps hung from chains, others were suspended by decorative rods that, in turn, supported a pair, or pairs, of arms. Because kerosene chandeliers required daily maintenance, a pulley was often secreted inside the decorative plate that also hid the lamp’s connection to the ceiling.

As the 20th century dawned and electricity became ubiquitous, many gasoliers and chandeliers were retrofitted. Other types of new hanging lamps included the so-called pan chandeliers, whose light sources were placed at the ends their multiple arms. Then there were hanging lamps that featured Tiffany-like shades over their lights, or clear prismatic glass shades that sent light streaming throughout a room.

The advantage of new hanging lamps, as opposed to retrofitted ones, was that their designs weren't constrained by the presence of fire. Thus, Art Nouveau lamps could be as naturalistic and free-flowing as their designers demanded, while Art Deco fixtures in brushed metal could be accented by shades shaped like bongo drums. By the 1950s and ’60s, the space-age look of Mid-century Modern lamps suggested starbursts and flying saucers, which would hover benignly over nuclear families enjoying meals at their Danish modern dining tables.


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Storm, Rosiak bring basement charm to Night Owl Pub| Feature Story
Hear Nebraska (registration) (blog), April 28th

Inside, a small alcove above the brick stairwell is decorated with a vintage chair, a black and white “WANTED” poster and a hanging lamp that illuminates the carpeted, beer-splattered staircase. With every step, the dark basement's character comes to...Read more

Remembering Prince: Night 1 of the Purple Rain tour
City Pages, April 27th

Nice place, the Shorecrest Motor Inn. Turn on the hanging lamp and it starts blinking on and off like a strobe. Turn on the TV and the button sticks, so you can't turn it off. On screen is the 1984 Metro Santa Claus Day Parade, happening just across...Read more

Batman: Heart of Hush review
Batman-News, April 23rd

I just dunked his face in a metal prison toilet and electrocuted him with a hanging lamp wire.” That said, there are times when things feel rushed. When Batman faces off against Hush's mentor, it's practically over before it begins. There's an attempt...Read more

Dispatches from the Kumamoto quake zone
The Japan Times, April 20th

Bottles tumbled off my cabinet, and my hanging lamp almost bucked its lampshade onto my laptop. The shaking stopped after 30 seconds, and I spent most of that time huddled under that low table worrying that the lamp was going to break free. I phoned my ...Read more

Calgarian in Japan shares experiences of living through two earthquakes
Calgary Herald, April 15th

Then my (hanging) lamp started violently shaking and I realized it was an earthquake and jumped under my kotatsu,” he said. The trembling lasted about 30 seconds, said Nolan, who later raced into the street to survey the damage and make a call to his ...Read more

Tronetti: Strength training important as you age
Florida Today, April 12th

I was standing on my kitchen table wiping the dead bugs from inside the hanging lamp when it occurred to me that this might not be the best idea. I remembered Edith Fore, the lady who used her Life Alert to summon aid with the now iconic line, “Help, I...Read more

Revisiting Carrie Mae Weems's Indelible Series — Almost Three Decades Later
New York Times, April 5th

When they think of Carrie Mae Weems, most people picture a black-and-white image of the artist seated under a hanging lamp playing solitaire or a snapshot of her swooping down to embrace her partner as he reads the newspaper, both from her “Kitchen ...Read more

Heritage: Radio interview gives view of early Woodburn
Statesman Journal, April 1st

Nothing could be more grand than a hanging lamp with crystals!” The little details of everyday life slip in with these remembrances: “House cleaning was something! We began and took everything out into the yard, took up the carpet, which was nailed...Read more