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A Light In the Country; The Science of Flynn, Part I: Gas Lights

September 26, 2014

lighting in master bedroom

While the Flynn Mansion was being constructed between 1870 and 1871, newspapers eagerly covered its progress, as well as its style and amenities. On August 15, 1871, an article appeared in the Iowa State Register which revealed “[t]he building is to be lighted with gas, to be manufactured on the premises, and consequently gas pipes have been put throughout the whole house.” For a home far from a city in 1870, particularly in Iowa, having gas lighting was something quite notable. It was a strong indicator that Mr. Flynn wanted the most modern conveniences and comforts for his home, and that he was willing to spend the money to acquire them.

In the middle part of the 1800s, domestic gas lighting relied upon gasses produced as byproducts from burning bituminous coal. These early systems did have some downsides, including a strong odor and occasional smoke. Scrubbers and filters were added in the 1840s and 1850s to help address those problems. By the 1870s, additional improvements in technology made it a more pleasant and effective lighting system.

Flynn light fixture

Though gas pipes were found during renovations of the Flynn House, the portable gas production system is no longer there. We do not have records that indicate what particular type of system was originally installed, but we can draw some conclusions from what was available to a family like the Flynns during the time of the home’s construction. One of the more popular systems during the 1870s was the Springfield Gas Machine.

entrance hall light fixtureThe Springfield Gas Machine was a two-part system which included a weight-driven air pump located in the house’s basement and a gasoline powered generator which was located underground at distance of at least fifty feet. Air from the basement pump would be forced through pipes to the outside generator. The air-gas mixture would then return to the house through pipes where it would be dispersed to the various fixtures, called “gasoliers”. The weight connected to the air pump would self-adjust as burners were turned off and on to maintain constant pressure throughout the system.

For more information on gas lighting, or the other technological advances that made the Flynn Family’s home one of the most enviable farmhouses in the state, please come out and visit us at Living History Farms! Don’t forget to vote for the Flynn Mansion in the Scientific Icon section of the Iowa Icon Challenge. Visit http://dmreg.co/1qpOqrp to learn more and to cast your vote! We are in the “Science” category.

 

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