Gas lighting was one of the major industries of the 19th century. First used for street lamps, by the mid-1800s, gas had replaced kerosene as the preferred source of lighting, as it was more economical and provided a more reliable, even source of light.
Gas lighting became the third largest industry in the country, behind railroads and mining. Produced in municipal “gashouses” as a by-product of bituminous coal heated in airtight chambers, gas was driven off the coal, collected and purified, and then piped into homes and commercial buildings in nearly every city in the country. Gas was used to illuminate chandeliers, wall sconces (called “brackets”) and “portables,” which were table lamps that drew their gas from a flexible tube attached to an overhead light.
But the era of gas lighting was to be short-lived, lasting just half a century. The invention of the light bulb in 1879 signaled the beginning of the end. As gas was initially cheaper and more reliable than electricity, transitional gas-and-electric combination fixtures were made at first (typically, the electric lights pointed down and the gas jets up).