View Full Version : kerosene lamps

04-17-2009, 06:13 AM
For a family living rural Oklahoma in 1938 would they be using electricity or kerosene lamps?

04-17-2009, 06:38 AM
It would partly depend on whether power lines had come through. Where I am in Ohio, lines came through in the early 40's. You can probably find out whether electricity was available by googling the name of the electric company involved - or if you don't have a name, try googling electricty Oklahoma and maybe the name of a county or city. Puma

04-17-2009, 06:54 AM
After sifting through a gazillion web sites I found my answer. Thank you, Puma. You are right rural areas did not get electric lines until the early 40's, in Oklahoma only those people who could pay the membership fee of $5 and usage could receive the service. I imagine many went without for awhile.

I love researching for my book! I feel as if I am getting to really know my grandmother in a whole new way.

04-17-2009, 05:15 PM
My family moved from the city to the country right after the electric lines went in. The electric company published an honor roll of customers who used 100 kwh or more a month (my family was always on it). But think about that - we're using 100 kwh a day now. But back then electricity was used for light (frequently only one 40W bulb in a room), running pumps for wells (and not everyone had an electric pumped well back then), and a cook stove (and again, not everyone had anything other than a wood cook stove), and since it was war time, maybe a small radio. My family was extravagant - we also had an electric clock - but that was it. Puma

04-17-2009, 06:29 PM
That is correct for my rural part of Oklahoma - kerosene lanterns were still in use.

04-18-2009, 06:15 PM
In Missouri just east of Oklahoma a few miles, rural electrifcation didn't come in until post WWII in the late 1940's so I would say kerosne lamps would be the norm.

04-18-2009, 07:41 PM
Wow, I had no idea electricity was so young. I never really thought about all this until writing this book.

04-18-2009, 07:44 PM
Fern, would it had been referred to as a lamp or lantern?

04-18-2009, 09:28 PM
Lamps for use in the home. My parents often referred to them as coal oil lamps.

Lanterns could be hung and were more for outside - use at the barn or walking to church or the outhouse,etc. Mother used to tell us the story of Granny following close behind with a lantern when any of her daughters walked with a boyfriend to/from church.

Even after electricity came, most rural people kept a coal oil lamp around for when electricity went off. Electric service wasn't that dependable when it was storming.

04-18-2009, 10:35 PM
Amen to that, Fern - and it did go off -often. We had coal oil lamps and candles. We still do actually have a coal oil lamp we can use if necessary. We've had some major (multiple day) outages from ice and wind storms, and batteries for modern lanterns don't always last as long as we need them. Puma

04-18-2009, 10:36 PM
We had no electricity on the farm outside of Big Timber, Montana, until I was nine and in fourth grade, about 1950.

Yes, we used kerosine lamps indoors. One of my chores was to trim the broad woven wicks.

Outside for milking and lambing, we used Coleman lanterns fueled with white (unleaded) gas. The filament was a fragile silk-like element about the size and shape of your thumb hanging inside the glass mantle.

But at the time, it was thought dim light would weaken young eyes, so after milking, brighter Coleman lanterns were fired up and set on the diningroom table for winter homework.

C.M. Daniels
04-19-2009, 05:23 AM
To this day, my Mom still has kerosene lamps around the house. She lives in rural Montana, where it seems like every storm that goes through the area knocks the power out. I grew up with them, and that was in the 80s.

They're nice to have now, and in Depression era OK.

04-19-2009, 05:32 AM
In Missouri just east of Oklahoma a few miles, rural electrifcation didn't come in until post WWII in the late 1940's so I would say kerosne lamps would be the norm.

We still have so many outages in my part of Missouri that many rural people keep a wood stove AND kerosene lamps. The lamp is the "whole house" light as needed. Candles and flashlights are used along with the lamp(s). As another poster mentioned we have had ice storm outages up to 15 days long in our hilly areas in the last few years.

Southern counties in MO got lines in a spotty manner throughout the early 1940's.
I would bet parts of Oklahoma got powered up at even later dates.

Good idea for a book, I want to put something down about my extended family/ancestors someday.

04-19-2009, 09:34 PM
Fern, I am glad you mentioned, "Boyfriend" that was my next question. My mom said Gram referred to a boyfriend as a "Suitor" or "Gentlemen caller" or "caller."

My gram lived about five or six hours north of Oklahoma in a town called Peculiar, MO (on the border of Kansas) during these years so I am not sure if Oklahoman's would have used those terms. I am guessing they would have since its not that far. Anyone know?

Pete, I live in a suburb outside of Oklahoma City and we are lucky, we rarely lose our power, but the rest of the state seems to lose theirs quite often. Especially, when the ice storms hit.

Last night on the History channel there was a documentary on the dust bowl. And wow, did I ever learn a lot! I did not know how many children died due to breathing the dust. Their little lungs would fill up with dirt!

I am becoming a little bothered by the fact that this part of our U.S. History is fading away in our schools. I think maybe a chapter was spent on the dust bowl when I was growing up. I am learning more from Youtube clips, web sites on the subject and message boards than I did in school IN OKLAHOMA!

04-19-2009, 11:46 PM
MaLanie - You touched on a sore point with me when you mentioned the history of, actually most of, the US and its development is fading away in schools. And, in some cases, there wasn't much to start with.

I get a bit perplexed when I see how many US writers are writing stories about England, Scotland, Prussia, etc. and ignoring our own history. I'd much rather read a good story that shows me what it was like in Oklahoma in the nineteen thirties, or Wyoming in 1890, or West Virginia in 1800 than another story about one of the British monarchs or wars or ... But that's not going to happen unless we get busy and do it. Puma

04-20-2009, 12:01 AM
I think you'd be safe using "gentleman caller" or suitor. When talking to us girls, Mother referred to a boyfriend, but that could have been because that is the term we used at the time. I know I've heard my grandmother (born 1901) use the terms suitor & gentleman caller.

If your character is getting married, don't forget the Chivaree.

04-20-2009, 12:07 AM
I'm writing a novel set in my home state, Puma, which is West Virginia, incidentally. Early to mid 1900's coal mines haunted by the miners who died inside it... very creepy stuff. I'm playing with the Mine Wars, but I don't know yet the exact when of my novel will be. There's a lot of history in our mines here, so there are a lot of times to choose from. It's been a fun venture, but it's taking me a while. Having coal miners all in my husband's family and my own father being a miner, I have plenty of resources to help me with research. I love our own country's history and couldn't write in any other country (mostly because I've never been to another, but that's a different story).

I'd like to see what people would come up with if they wrote about their own state, hometown, whatever. It'd be neat. There are lots of different tid-bits of history that would make GREAT fiction. Kudos to the OP for doing so. :)

04-20-2009, 04:05 AM
Puma, I agree. That is part of why I am writing this book. ;-)

EfC, that sounds like a very interesting story line. I like that! I was thinking the other day it would be great to take local legends no one but locals have heard and turn them into a book as a way of preserving them.

Fern, lol what is Chivaree? I have so much to learn! My main character will not be getting married (oops spoiler) but a friend of hers will be, and I will be posting wedding questions when I get to that scene.

Would dates during the day to a matinée with friends tagging along still have been chaperoned by an adult?

04-20-2009, 05:04 AM
Very good - EFCollins. That sounds like it has the potential to be an interesting story.

Same to you, MaLanie, but I already knew you were working on an Americana piece.

I did too - the novel in my avatar is about Ohio in the early 1800's - just the story of the settlement of a small community - but one that had some good stories worth passing on.

Around here Chivaree's were called "bellings". After a newlywed couple was settled down where they were going to live, their contemporaries would show up at the house ringing bells, blowing horns, etc. In some cases they were invited in to have a bite to eat (it wasn't unusual for someone to tip off the couple so they knew when to have cookies or a cake around). Sometimes things got a bit out of hand - at one of the ones here someone sprayed the couple with a hose through an open window. Puma

04-20-2009, 05:23 AM
If your character is getting married, don't forget the Chivaree.

Can't forget that! Our township had two one-room country schools located about 4 miles apart. They were where we held chivarees in the evening after the wedding. We had a few neighbors who could play musical instruments...not well, but they provided music for the dances. A couple of guitars, a fiddle, an accordian and maybe a harmonica. If you could waltz, two-step and shottische, you could dance all night.

There was always a beer keg in the yard outside the school, since you weren't supposed to have alcohol inside the school building. One adult always watched the keg so we kids couldn't get close enough to steal a sip, but if he left for a minute, we'd make a quick raid to fill a single cup and share it among a dozen kids.

There was no electricity in the school house so several people brought gas lamps from home. I can still hear the hissing noise of a dozen lamps burning.

Sometime during the evening, we'd go to the house where the newlyweds would live, to play some type of prank. It might be nothing more than soaping all the windows in the house, stuffing potatoes into the exhaust pipe of his truck and tractor, or tipping over the outhouse. One time we blocked him out of his barn by stacking two rows of square hay bales, floor to ceiling, inside the door. We had to do all the work inside the barn, then climb into the hay mow and ride a rope to the ground. The next day, he had to borrow a tall ladder from a neighbor to get into his barn.

When the newlyweds left the party, they had strings of cans tied to their car and a bunch of cars would follow, honking horns and making life miserable for them. If they went to their house, a bunch of cars would park outside and blow their horns, sometimes for an hour or more.

No television in those days, so we made our own entertainment.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
04-20-2009, 05:32 AM
I've still got the kerosene lamps that belonged to my mother and grandmother and we use them from time to time during power outages. The one that belonged to my grandmother has a handmade wick in it - my mother took one of my baby socks and sewed it to the stub of the old wick before it ran completely out. I've also got a 'fancy' lamp that has the silky 'mantle' that was used instead of a wick.

04-20-2009, 07:07 AM
You know, I was reading through the responses and just realized I completely forgot to type out the one thing I started to post in this thread in the first place. (I ramble a lot and tend to forget)....

Kerosene lamps/oil lamps were popular to a lot of homes back then, is what I originally intended to post. My grandmother has several that are absolutely fabulous (the more decorative ones), but some don't even look trustworthy. My grandparents on both sides used to talk about the lamps and my great-aunt set her bed on fire with one as a teenager. I think those and candles were widely used even up to the mid-forties, but that may only be within the poorer families, I'm not sure.

04-20-2009, 07:22 PM
Gary's description is pretty apt for chivarees I've heard about. Usually they would follow the newly married couple to their home - evening of the wedding and serenade them from outside, pull pranks, etc. Around here (rural Oklahoma) most people during that time did not have cars so were either afoot or riding a horse. Someone might slip into the house before they got home and sprinkle rice in the bed, etc.