Oil patch lore says the yellow dog lantern was so named because its two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night.

Others believed the lamp projected a strange and eerie dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Jonathan Dillen’s lantern was “especially adapted for use in the oil regions…where the explosion of a lamp is attended with great danger by causing destructive conflagration and consequent loss of life and property.”

Rare is the community oil and natural gas museum that doesn’t have a “yellow dog” in its collection. The two-wicked lamp is an oilfield icon.

Some say that the unusual design originated with whaling ships – but neither the Nantucket nor New Bedford whaling museums can find any such evidence.

Railroad museums have collections of cast iron smudge pots, but nothing quite like these heavy, odd shaped, crude-oil burning lanterns once prevalent on petroleum fields from Pennsylvania to California.

Although many companies manufactured the iron or steel lamps, the yellow dog’s origins remain in the dark.

Oil patch lore says these lanterns were so named because their two burning wicks resembled a dog’s glowing eyes at night.

Others say the lamps cast a dog’s head shadow on the derrick floor.

Inventor Jonathan Dillen of Petroleum Centre, Pennsylvania, was first to patent what became the “yellow dog” of the early oil patch. The U.S. patent was awarded on May 3, 1870.

His lamp was designed “for illuminating places out of doors, especially in and about derricks, and machinery in the oil regions, whereby explosions are more dangerous and destructive to life and property than in most other places.”

Dillen’s patent was improved and reissued in 1872 and again in 1877, when it was assigned to John Eaton and E. H. Cole. “My improved lamp is intended to burn crude petroleum as it comes from the wells fresh and gassy,” Dillen proclaimed. “It is to be used, mainly, around oil wells, and its construction is such as to make it very strong, so that it cannot be easily broken or exploded.”

yellow dog

A 2009 biography by his great-grandson noted John Eaton was considered “father of the well supply trade.”

Eaton, Cole & Burnham Company grew from John Eaton’s 1861 business trip to the booming oil region of western Pennsylvania. Within a few years, he set up his own business with Edward Cole. With the addition of Edward Burnham, the company grew to become a preeminent supplier of oilfield equipment.

By 1877, the company included outlets in the oil region and in Pittsburgh and Bradford. It became Oil Well Supply Company in 1878.

According to a 2009 biography by his great-grandson, “The first goods manufactured by the Oil Well Supply Company were made on a foot lathe,” John Eaton recalled. The oilfield equipment supply company  was operating 75 manufacturing plants by the turn of the 20 century.

The biography, John Eaton, by journalist Louis B. Fleming, cited the 1898 book Sketches in Crude Oil, which proclaimed Oil Well Supply’s founder and president, “may fairly claim to be the father of the well supply trade.”

At its 45-acre Imperial Works on the Allegheny River in Oil City, Oil Well Supply manufactured oilfield engines and “cast and malleable iron goods.”  Among the products was a popular two-wicked derrick lamp.

Incorporated in Pennsylvania – the Keystone State – Forest Oil’s logo features the iconic two-wicked lamp invented in 1870.

The 1884 catalog listed yellow dog lamps at a price of $1.50 each.

Oil Well Supply became part of United States Steel Corporation in 1929. Today, along with their shadowy origins, yellow dogs are relegated to museums, antique shops and collectors.

Forest Oil Corporate Logo

A producer of oil and natural gas, Forest Oil Corporation is credited with developing a secondary recovery of oil technique (water-flooding) in the early 1900s – a revolutionary event for the oil and gas industry at that time.

Forest Oil adopted an image of the yellow dog derrick lantern as its corporate logo in 1916, when Forest Dale Dorn and Clayton Glenville Dorn founded an oilfield service company in northern Pennsylvania. The company’s roots can be traced to the nation’s first giant field in Bradford, discovered in 1871.

Am oil museum near Bradford, Pennsylvania, educates visitors using a replica of a circa 1880s standard cable-tool derrick.

By 1916, oil production in the Bradford field had declined to just under 40 barrels a day. The reserve was considered by many to be dry. Undeterred, Dorn applied his new water-flooding technique to initiate secondary recovery of oil.

The success of Dorn’s method prompted him to create his own water-flooding company. Within five years, Forest Oil was recognized as a leader in secondary oil recovery systems.

This enhanced recovery technology was soon being applied throughout the industry – aiding in the extension of oil wells’ lives by as much as 10 years.

The keystone shape in the center of the lantern symbolizes the state of Pennsylvania – where the first commercial U.S. oil well was drilled in 1859 and where Forest Oil was founded in 1916. The company is now headquartered in Denver.

Pennsylvania Petroleum Museum

Visit the Penn-Brad Historical Oil Park and Museum near Bradford, Pennsylvania — where a modern natural gas shale boom has renewed the historic oil patch economy.

Located in Custer City, three miles south of Bradford, the museum (which now is being renovated by volunteers) “preserves the philosophy, the spirit, and the accomplishments of an oil country community – taking visitors back to early oil boom days of the first billion dollar oilfield.”

A main attraction is the 72-foot standard cable-tool derrick, a replica of the technology that in the 1880s helped Bradford once produce an incredible 74 percent of all the oil in America. It was the nation’s  “first billion-dollar oilfield.”



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information: Article Title: “Yellow Dog – Oilfield Lantern.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/technology/yellow-dog-oil-field-lantern. Last Updated: September 26, 2019.

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