Gas lighting is production of artificial light from combustion of a gaseous fuel, such as hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, propane, butane, acetylene, ethylene, or natural gas. Before electricity became widespread and economical to allow for general public use, gas was the most popular method of outdoor and indoor lighting in cities. Early gas lights were ignited manually, but many designs are self-igniting. In addition, some urban historical districts retain gas street lighting, early lighting fuels consisted of olive oil, beeswax, fish oil, whale oil, sesame oil, nut oil, and similar substances. These were the most commonly used fuels until the late 18th century, chinese records dating back 1,700 years note the use of natural gas in the home for light and heat via bamboo pipes to the dwellings. Public illumination preceded the discovery and adoption of gaslight by centuries, in 1417, Sir Henry Barton, Mayor of London, ordained lanterns with lights to be hung out on the winter evenings between Hallowtide and Candlemasse. Paris was first lit by an order issued in 1524, and, in the beginning of the 16th century, in coal mining, accumulating and escaping gases were known originally for their adverse effects rather than their useful qualities. Coal miners described two types of gases, one called the choke damp and the fire damp. In 1667, a paper detailing the effects of gases was entitled, A Description of a Well and Earth in Lancashire taking Fire. Imparted by Thomas Shirley, Esq an eye-witness, stephen Hales was the first person who procured a flammable fluid from the actual distillation of coal. His experiments with this object are related in the first volume of his Vegetable Statics and these results seemed to have passed without notice for several years. This paper contained some striking facts relating to the flammability and other properties of coal-gas, the principal properties of coal-gas were demonstrated to different members of the Royal Society, and showed that after keeping the gas some time, it still retained its flammability. The scientists of the time still saw no purpose for it. John Clayton, in an extract from a letter in the Philosophical Transactions for 1735, calls gas the spirit of coal and this spirit happened to catch fire, by coming in contact with a candle as it escaped from a fracture in one of his distillatory vessels. By preserving the gas in bladders, he entertained his friends, william Murdoch was the first to exploit the flammability of gas for the practical application of lighting. He worked for Matthew Boulton and James Watt at their Soho Foundry steam engine works in Birmingham and he first lit his own house in Redruth, Cornwall in 1792. In 1798, he used gas to light the building of the Soho Foundry and in 1802 lit the outside in a public display of gas lighting. One of the employees at the Soho Foundry, Samuel Clegg, Clegg left his job to set up his own gas lighting business, the Gas Lighting and Coke Company
Gas lighting in the historical center of Wrocław, Poland is manually turned off and on daily.
An overview of lighting technology, circa 1900
Passersby marvel at new gaslighting (London, 1809)