Coleman. What is it about this name, we wonder, when it comes to outdoor equipment? We see it all over the place on tents, kerosene lamps, grills, coolers, and just about any other tool or accessory you’d need outdoors. Put it this way: during the apocalypse, we hope to be locked inside a Coleman warehouse. We decided to look into them and find out more about this company so dedicated to outdoor fun!
Looking back to the beginning of this empire, it all makes perfect sense. William Coffin Coleman was a typewriter salesman at the end of the 19th century, when everyone was using kerosene lamps. These lamps produced a flickering, smoky light.
Of course it is during our day job tasks that we stumble upon a cataclysm for our next venture: he spotted a lamp in a store window that boasted a constant white light, and was fascinated by this new vision that was so easy on his poor eyesight.
Being the Libra he was, he quit the typewriter business and began selling lamps, even tinkering during his free time and building lamps of his own. He could see that this was going to be the next big thing, and called his invention the Coleman Arc Lamp (pictured below).
The Coleman lamp is perhaps the most widely known product of theirs. In 1900 the Coleman Company was founded. William Coffin continued to develop his lamp designs and in 1902, W.C. and his family moved to Wichita, Kansas, where Coleman headquarters are located today.
It was in 1905 that Coleman lanterns, using mantles, illuminated the first nighttime football game west of the Mississippi River. If only we had some video of that moment! While electricity had been available, it was not yet installed in rural homes. Farms and isolated houses relied upon Coleman lanterns to continue their workdays past sunset. In 1914 he invented the 300-candlepower lantern, which spread light in a hundred-metre radius. This had a huge impact on the economy, as productivity went up. In fact, these lanterns were so beloved that the government issued 70 000 of them to soldiers in World War I.
So Coleman went on selling lanterns until the Second World War, for which the army asked Coleman to create a portable stove with very specific requirements. Coleman was able to pump out 5000 of these stoves that weighed three and a half pounds, were smaller than a quart of milk, and could operate in nearly any temperature and run on any fuel.
These pocket stoves became regarded as one of the most important accessories to the war effort, next to the Jeep. After the war and into the 1950s, citizens and GIs had a lot of spending money and everyone was familiar with the reliable Coleman name. Cars were being produced en masse and were now affordable, and so began the popularity of road trips. Of course, there was now a massive demand for outdoor gear. One of Coleman’s best inventions was the plastic cooler in 1957. Up to that point, coolers had been made of steel that perspired and were ineffective. The plastic models were better insulated and easier to clean, and best of all, did not sweat.
In the early 1960s came sleeping bags and tents. This made it possible for families to camp outside and for people to take road trips, as they could be self-sufficient and save money on hotels. It coincided with the dawn of the hippie era, where people enjoyed being in nature, and were able to have spiritual experiences and cook for themselves. This how Coleman came to be the number one company for camping supplies.
Today, in addition to the classics, Coleman manufactures watches, hot tubs, boats, and barbecues. Coleman is associated worldwide with quality products that revolutionized the American workday and economy, enabled soldiers to eat hot food during a war, helped people climb Mount Everest, and aided journalists in the investigations of the South Pole.
Coleman’s modern day camping lanterns operate pretty much the same as the original lanterns: by gas mantles, which are pieces of flammable netting that act as a lightbulb. You ignite them with a match, and an attached propane source keeps them aflame. They produce a brilliant white light that is great for the campsite once the sun has gone down.
We think it’s really cool when people follow their inspirations. Some early models of the Coleman Arc lamp can be found in attics or antique shops. They are a neat piece of history and worth a lot of money – we’re talking a couple thousand dollars.
So go ahead and take a camping trip. You know what? You don’t even have to go camping; plan a day-long outing that requires you to be self-sufficient. Outfit yourself, and see if you can make it without needing and using a Coleman product. We dare you!