David Melville And The First American Gas Light Patents


Reprinted from The Rushlight, December 1998. Copyright The Rushlight Club. All rights reserved.

Figure 1. David Melville as he appeared in 1851- at the age of 78. The original daguerreotype that this 1859 drawing was taken from is still in the possession of Melville's descendents and is reproduced in Beyond the City Lights (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1985), p. 2.
Drawing of David Melville as he appeared at age 78

Figure 2. Melville's advertisement was submitted on Feb. 19, 1813 and was printed on the last page of the Newport Mercury the next day. This may well be the first occurrence of gas light advertising in the United States. The same notice appeared again on Feb. 27.

Figure 3. This is the reconstructed illustration of Melville's March 18, 1813 "Gas Lamp," the second and earliest surviving American gas light patent. (From the original, National Archives RG 241, X1897).

Figure 4. The author at the site of David Melville's house, corner of Pelham and Thames streets, Newport, RI. Unfortunately, the original building does not survive. In a town with many excellent gas street lamps (albeit incandescent) it is ironic that this spot is illuminated by an electric light!
Photo of Dan Mattausch at the site of David Melville's house

Figure 5. Reproduction of a Melville-type gas lamp in operation (see also Figure 6). While the flame is relatively steady, it is inefficient and dim compared to later burners. The rat-tail burner is a very scarce original early nineteenth century example. From the Gas Light Collection of Dan and Nancy Mattausch.

Figure 6. Broadside advertisement for Meville's gas apparatus. Note the basic gas burner shown at "P."
Broadside advertisement for 
        Meville's gas apparatus

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