The artifact shown in class is an 1800’s locomotive headlamp. The headlamp on the locomotive had several purposes. One of the most important purposes was to make it easier for the driver to see in front of the train and make sure they were not approaching any obstacles. The headlight was also used to alert anyone ahead that the train was coming.
There were several attempts and prototypes of the locomotive headlamps. One that was used for some time after the civil war was a large box that was almost two feet by two feet, with glass in the front. It was sometimes decorated to make it more visually appealing, but it did not last. The one that became the most popular was much smaller and round. To identify the headlamp “engine numbers were stamped out of the metal and covered with glass”(Presentation Magazine). In the mid 1800s kerosene began being used in the headlamps. It did not have as much power as other fuel, so it was used in marker lamps. After the use of kerosene, electric lamps were invented by two Americans.
Thomas Edison was the inventor of the incandescent lamp. In the late 1800s many locomotive companies began using electric headlamps instead of oil lamps. There were multiple problems that came with using the electric lights instead of oil. It was very difficult to “supply electric power when the train was in a station”(Presentation Magazine). The light was extremely bright and made it hard for the drivers of others trains to see when they were arriving at the station. In the early 1900’s the arc lamp was invented and made it much easier for other train drivers to see and it allowed people to safely cross. The headlamp shown in class was made using black metal, possibly iron, with a glass plate in the front which allows the light to pass through it. The glass is on a hinge so it could be opened and closed.
The artifact relates to what we are learning because the locomotive industry became one of the largest and most important industries in America for a long time during and after the civil war. The trains were used to transport supplies to the troops all throughout the war, and after the war they were used as transportation for people. There were many investors in the trains that made huge amounts of money. A couple of these investors were Rockefeller and Carnegie. Rockefeller supplied nearly all the oil the locomotives and then moved on to supplying oil to the cars too. Carnegie built many of the train tracks and introduced building with steel.
The headlamps were also used on the trains built on the continental railroad. even though the headlamp seems like a small piece of a much larger puzzle, it is still an extremely important piece and without it locomotives would not be able to operate safely.