Search the Collection
Advanced Search

American whale oil lamp

Date: 19th century
Overall: 218 x 98 x 98 mm, 0.325 kg
Medium: Metal, glass, fabric wick
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Lamp
Object No: 00033879
Place Manufactured:United States

User Terms

    This whale oil lamp was produced in the United States of America in the 19th century. Whale oil was an important fuel for lighting during the 18th and 19th centuries and whale oil lamps were used for decades.
    SignificanceThis whale oil lamp is typical of the type of lamps found in homes in Europe and America during the 19th century, where Australian whale oil from the sperm whale was favoured.
    HistoryWhaling played an essential part in 19th century life. Industry and households depended on whale products for which there was no substitute. Whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication until 1860 when kerosene and petroleum started to gain popularity. The pure clean oil from sperm whales was a superior source of lighting and the finest candles were made from the whale's wax-like spermaceti. Light and flexible, baleen - the bristle-fringed plates found in the jaws of baleen whales - had many uses in objects which today would be made out of plastic.

    American whaling centred on the north-east coastal town of New Bedford, a booming industry in the 19th century with hundreds of ships regularly heading out to the Pacific Ocean. Australian whaling stations included the settlement at Twofold Bay, NSW which was established by entrepreneur Benjamin Boyd in 1844. In this region and in parts of North America whalers noted that pods of Killer whales regularly helped them in their hunts by herding migrating whales into bays and keeping the animals on the surface, making it easier for the hunters to kill the trapped whales. The Killer whales were often awarded the prize of the killed whales tongue and lips.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: WHALE OIL LAMP

    Web title: American whale oil lamp

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.