Coleman is not the only name in camping lanterns—Kamplite, Nulite, Aladdin, Preway, Ash Flash, and Sunshine Safety are a few of the others—but Coleman is the big dog. Originally sold in the early part of the 20th century to extend the work days of farmers, these gasoline-burning lanterns that were designed to bring light to rural communities were soon embraced by recreational campers.
The company’s first lantern in 1914 was called the Arc Lantern, or Model L, and it worked similarly to Coleman lanterns today, although the composition of the mantle, which actually throws the light, has changed for reasons which will quickly become obvious. The fuel container at the base of the lamp is pressurized by means of a hand pump. This forces fuel and fumes up into the lantern so that when a mixture of fumes and air come in contact with a special type of cloth called a mantle and that mantle is lit, it will glow. In the bad old days, such mantles were soaked in radiative thorium, which, when the cloth was burned away, would glow very bright. These days mantles are still extremely fragile, but their metal component is a benign metal called yttrium, which is also used in LEDs.