Samuel Russell Wilmot:
Inventor and Early Kerosene Burner Manufacturer
By Jeffrey J. Smith
Figure 1. Samuel Russell Wilmot in a
ca. 1865 photograph. (Courtesy Ancestry)
Samuel Russell Wilmot (Figure 1) was a very inventive and industrious individual. He obtained close to one hundred patents over his lifetime, formed numerous companies in connection with them, and enjoyed success in the business world. While a brief history of all of his firms will be presented here, this article will focus mostly on one, The Wilmot Manufacturing Company and the kerosene burners it manufactured.
Samuel Wilmot started out in business, not with the manufacture of kerosene burners, but with the invention of an important portable steam sawing machine for cutting down trees and sawing them into lumber. He transferred his patent, in exchange for stock, to Fairbanks & Co. of New York and joined the company to manufacture his machine. However, the firm suffered a reversal of fortune, and in 1856 the company, with Wilmot’s patent, was acquired by parties in Louisiana and Wilmot was not retained. Wilmot, though, soon found another business opportunity in the hooped women’s skirts that were popular in the 1850’s. The skirt stays were made from whale bone, which was getting harder to secure. Wilmot invented a “steel spring metal” to replace the whale bone. This invention proved to be very successful.
The Early Kerosene Burner Manufacturing Companies
In 1859, with the profits from the manufacture of the steel skirt hoops, Wilmot started the first of his companies that would manufacture kerosene burners, The Wilmot & KIssam Manufacturing Company, in Brooklyn, New York, with Daniel Kissam, who served as the bookkeeper. The company made other brass items, not just kerosene burners.
In 1865, the Wilmot & Kissam Mfg. Co. moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and reorganized as The Bridgeport Brass Company. Wilmot was president of the company and Kissam served as secretary. A historical account in 1886 states that the company made “brass wire, tubing and sheets, and also many articles of which brass is the principal component part, specially of kerosene oil burners and lamps”. While at Bridgeport Brass, Samuel Wilmot patented the popular Leader burner (Figure 4) along with Daniel Kissam.
Examples of some of the burners manufactured by these two early companies are shown and described here.
Figure 2. Figure 2a. Figure 3. Figure 3a.
Figure 2. No. 1 size chimneyless burner marked on top “J. EDGAR PAT. AUG.11th 63.”
Figure 2a. Detail, thumbwheel marked “WILMOT & KISSAM MF’G CO BROOKLYN. N.Y. MF’D FOR P. ESSIG & CO.”
Figure 3. No. 1 size chimneyless burner marked on wick tube, “MF’D BY WILMOT & KISSAM MF’G CO BROOKLYN. N.Y.”
Figure 3a. Detail, other side of wick tube marked “THE WILMOT BURNER PATENT APP’D FOR”.
A chimneyless burner (Figures 2 & 2a) is marked on the thumbwheel “WILMOT & KISSAM MF’G Co BROOKLYN, N.Y. MF’D FOR P.ESSIG & Co”. The top of the burner, on both sides, is marked “J. EDGAR PAT.AUG.11th 63”. The patent was granted to Joseph Dodin and assigned to James Edgar. The burner does not seem to match the patent except for the way the top of the burner is assembled, with two plates fastened together to form a cone.
Figure 4. Figure 4a. Figure 5. Figure 5a.
Figure 4. No. 1 size Leader burner marked on base “PAT’D JUNE 1.69 SEPT.18.77 NOV.18.79 APR.6.80.”
Figure 4a. Detail, thumbwheel marked “BRIDGEPORT BRASS CO. LEADER NO 1.”
Figure 5. No.1 size burner made by Bridgeport Brass incorporating Wilmot’s August 10, 1875 patent.
Figure 5a. Thumbwheel marked “BRIDGEPORT BRASS CO PAT AUG.10.1875”.
Another chimneyless burner (Figure 3) has the wick tube marked on one side “MF’D BY WILMOT & KISSAM MF’G Co BROOKLYN. N.Y.” and the other side (Figure 3a) marked “THE WILMOT BURNER PATENT APP’D FOR”. The patent is for a seamless dome with legs stamped from a single piece of brass to save on material and labor costs. The thumbwheel has a decorative design but no information.
The Leader burner, which Wilmot patented jointly with Kissam, is shown in Figure 4. The thumbwheel (Figure 4a) is marked “BRIDGEPORT BRASS CO. LEADER NO 1.” This burner was very successful, as indicated by the many examples that have survived.
A patent by Wilmot was used on another burner made by Bridgeport Brass that is shown in Figure 5. The thumbwheel is marked “BRIDGEPORT BRASS CO PAT AUG.10.1875” (Figure 5a). The patent was for air holes between the wick and vent tubes.
In 1877, Samuel Wilmot left Bridgeport Brass and formed the American Belt Tin & Tube Company. The company name soon changed to Wilmot, Hobbs & Company when Wilmot’s future son-in-law, Willis F. Hobbs, joined the firm. The company later reorganized in 1884 under the name of The Wilmot & Hobbs Manufacturing Company. Figure 6 is a page from their Catalog E which describes the products they made from cold rolled steel and other metals. In 1894 Hobbs sold his interest in the company but Wilmot continued in the business until his death on Feb. 4, 1897. In 1901 the company was absorbed by The American Tube & Stamping Company.
Figure 6. Figure 7.
Figure 6. Title page from Wilmot & Hobbs Catalog E. (Courtesy of Rushlight Club member Charles Leib).
Figure 7. Wilmot & Hotchkiss advertisement, Harper’s Bazar, December 26, 1868. (Courtesy Rushlight Club member Charles Leib)
Wilmot & Hotchkiss Manufacturing and Wilmot Manufacturing Companies
As stated in the beginning, the main focus of this article is on another company that Wilmot formed when he was involved with Bridgeport Brass. This firm was organized in April 1868 as The Wilmot & Hotchkiss Manufacturing Company. Figure 7 is an advertisement that shows the original company name (it is possible Wilmot patented the “Creaser & Tucker” described in the advertisement).
The name was changed on July 8, 1869, to the familiar Wilmot Manufacturing Company. Who Mr. Hotchkiss was and why he left the company is unknown.
Figure 8. Figure 9. Figure 9a.
Figure 8. Correspondence on Wilmot Manufacturing Company letterhead to the Sharps Rifle Company, dated August 3, 1876. (Courtesy Rushlight Club member David Broughton).
Figure 9. No. 1 size burner known as the “waterfall” burner.
Figure 9a. Detail, dome of “waterfall” burner marked, “S.R. WILMOT’S PAT.JULY.18.1865.”
The 1876 letterhead in Figure 8 describes the Wilmot Manufacturing’s wares as “light and fancy brass articles” and “kerosene burners, metal shades and lamp fixtures”. It pictures Wilmot’s patented Best Sun Burner and the Imperial Shade.
In 1874 one half of the stock of Wilmot Manufacturing Company was bought by David Thayer and Aaron Benedict (nephew of Charles Benedict of Benedict & Burnham Mfg. Co.). By March of 1877 Thayer had purchased the remainder of the company stock. In May of 1877 Samuel Wilmot sold the patent rights for his burner to Benedict & Burnham and in October of that year Thayer transferred the stock of Wilmot Manufacturing to Benedict & Burnham as collateral for a loan from them. Thayer was arrested for embezzling money from Benedict & Burnham, who then assumed control of Wilmot Manufacturing. How long Wilmot Manufacturing operated after this is unknown. These events, along with leaving Bridgeport Brass in 1877, ended Samuel R. Wilmot’s interest in lighting.
Wilmot & Hotchkiss Mfg. Co. Burners
What may be the first burner made by The Wilmot & Hotchkiss Manufacturing Company (Figure 9) is marked on the top of the burner, around the dome, “S.R. WILMOT’S PAT.JULY.18.1865” (Figure 9a). This is the patent for the chimneyless burner in Figure 3. The part of the patent that applies to this burner is the seamless dome. The thumbwheel is marked “THE WILMOT & HOTCHKISS M-F-G. CO. BRIDGPORT CT” (Figure 10). The wick tube on this burner (Figure 10a) is marked with Wilmot’s patent of Oct. 29, 1867 for a spliced vertical edge on the wick tube (Figure 11).
Figure 10. Figure 10a. Figure 11.
Figure 10. Detail, thumbwheel marked “THE WILMOT & HOTCHKISS M-F-G. CO. BRIDGEPORT CT.”
Figure 10a. Detail, wick tube marked “PAT.OCT.29.67.”
Figure 11. Wick tube of the “waterfall” burner in Figure 9, made per Wilmot’s October 29, 1867 patent.
Another burner (Figure 12) marked on the thumbwheel “WILMOT & HOTCHKISS MFG CO. BRIDGEPORT CT”, was patented by Samuel Fowler. The date of his patent is marked on the rim of the base plate (Figure 12a): “PATD JAN.21 . 1868”. The patent is for a burner top modified to hold a chimney with a bayonet-type fitting. The wick tube is made per Wilmot’s patent of October 29, 1867, for a spliced edge, but the patent date is hidden inside the burner. This burner takes a special chimney with a built-in glass deflector in the base (Figure 12b). The chimney twists into place and two lugs on the base lock into slots inside the burner. This example is embossed with the dates April 9, 1861, Dec. 9, 1862, and Dec. 10, 1867 on the glass around the base of the chimney. The first two dates are for glass deflectors in general, but the 1867 patent is specific to the Fowler burner.
Figure 12. Figure 12a. Figure 12b.
Figure 12. No. 2 size burner known as the Fowler burner (the thumbwheel is marked the same as in Figure 10).
Figure 12a. ”Rim of Fowler burner marked “PATD JAN.21.1868.”
Figure 12b. Special chimney for the Fowler burner. Embossed in the glass, around the base; “PATD APR 9.1861 DEC 9.1862 DEC.10.1867".
Figure 13. Figure 13a.
Figure 13. No.1 size Collins burner, marked on the thumbwheel “M.H. COLLINS PATENT SEPT 19.1865.”
Figure 13a. Detail, wick tube, marked “PAT.OCT.29.67.”
The next example is a Collins burner (Figure 13) which is marked on the thumbwheel with the Collins patent of September 19, 1865, but no manufacturers name. This burner is marked on the wick tube (Figure 13a) with Wilmot’s patent of Oct. 29, 1867 for a spliced wick tube edge. Since this patented wick tube seems to be found only on Wilmot & Hotchkiss marked burners, this burner was probably made by The Wilmot & Hotchkiss Manufacturing Company.
Figure 14. Figure 14a. Figure 14b.
Figure 14. No. 1 size burner known as the Wilmot burner. The thumbwheel is marked the same as in Figure 10.
Figure14a. Detail, burner rim marked “OCT.4.25.1870.”
Figure 14b. Detail, base showing design per October 25, 1870, patent.
The last known example of a burner (Figure 14) with the Wilmot & Hotchkiss name on the thumbwheel is a squat burner with decorative deflector supports. The deflector has 12 overlapping leaves with air holes similar to the Collins burner shown in Figure 13. It is marked on the base rim (Figure 14a) with the patent dates, “OCT.4.25.1870”. The October 4, 1870 patent was for the decorative deflector support arms and the deflector petal arrangement to hold the chimney. The October 25, 1870 patent was for the base design (Figure 14b). This burner exactly matches the patent drawing. Note the absence of the Collins’ patent date of September 19, 1865.
Wilmot Manufacturing Company Burners
Figure 15. Figure 15a.
Figure 15. No. 1 size burner, a redesign of the burner in Figure 14. The thumbwheel is blank.
Figure 15a. Detail, burner rim marked “PAT.SEP.19.1865.OCT.4.25.1870.”
The burner in Figure 15 is the second generation of the burner in Figure 14. It has a blank thumbwheel which is probably due to the name change of the company. The burner is taller than its predecessor and has sixteen leaves instead of twelve. It is marked on the base rim, like the previous example, except it now has the September 19, 1865 Collins patent date included (Figure 15a). It is probable that Michael Collins enforced his patent rights since all Wilmot Manufacturing Company burners of this style include his patent information.
WILMOT BURNERS WITH ADDED DEVICES
The next three burners are the same as the burner in Figure 15 but have added patented devices. The thumbwheels are marked with the new name of the company, The Wilmot Manufacturing Company (Figure 16a) and have the same patent dates on the base rim of September 19, 1865, October 4 & 25, 1870.
First is a burner (Figure 16) that has a lighter feature with a separate thumbwheel (Figure 16b) marked “PATENTED MARCH.18.1873 & MAY.18.1873” (May 18 is a mistake and should be May 27). The May 27, 1873 patent was granted to Michael Lynch for a crankshaft that moves a lever across a fuse (Figure 17), which ignites and lights the wick. The fuse strip is stored in a hollow tube that extends down into the lamp (Figure 17a). The March 18, 1873 patent is for a fuse strip and was granted to J. Babcock, W. Leonard, and E. Crane of Boston, Massachusetts.
Figure 16. Figure 16a. Figure 16b.
Figure 16. No. 1 size burner with Lynch’s patented lighter feature.
Figure 16a. The thumbwheel is marked with “THE WILMOT M’F’G. CO. BRIDGEPORT CT.”, the new name of the company.
Figure 16b. Detail, the second thumbwheel, marked “PATENTED MARCH.18.1873 MAY.18.1873” (should be May 27).
Figure 17. Figure 17a.
Figure 17. Detail, lever and fuse strip tube.
Figure 17a. Detail, base with hollow tube for fuse strip.
The next example (Figure 18) has an extinguisher patented by Henry Warren on May 18, 1875. A manually operated lever, opposite the thumbwheel, raises a sleeve to extinguish the flame. A lead weight on the bottom of the burner returns the sleeve to its normal position. The sleeve is marked “PAT MAY.18.1875” (Figure 18a). This patent extinguisher proved to be popular as it was also used on burners manufactured by Edward Miller & Company and The Plume & Atwood Manufacturing Company.
Figure 18. Figure 18a.
Figure 18. No. 1 size burner with Warren’s patented extinguisher. The thumbwheel is marked the same as that in Figure 16a.
Figure 18a. Detail, wick-tube sleeve marked “PAT.MAY.18.1875.”
Still another Wilmot Manufacturing Company burner with a special patented feature (Figure 19) has a flame regulator patented by Lyman Tobey on August 31, 1875. The patent is for a rod that extends below the base plate to control a pivoting cap that can be adjusted wide open for a normal flame or almost closed to lower the flame for less light. It is marked on the cap “PAT’D AUG.31.1875” (Figure 19a). This burner was used as a nightlight as well as a regular burner.
Figure 19. Figure 19a.
Figure 19. No. 1 size burner with Tobey’s patented flame regulator. The thumbwheel is marked the same as that in Figure 16a.
Figure 19a. Detail, adjustable burner cap marked “PAT’D AUG.31.1875.”
A third generation of the Figure 14 Wilmot burner (Figure 20) uses a different deflector support system (Figure 20a). The base rim (Figure 20b) is marked like the previous examples but has the Samuel Wilmot’s patent date of March 17, 1874 added. The patent is for three arm supports on each side of the wick tube to hold the deflector in place. The bottom of each support is soldered into the base of the burner next to the wick tube. The patent states this design opens up the middle of the burner to make it easier to clean and adds strength to the burner. The thumbwheel has the same information as the previous burners.
Figure 20. Figure 20a. Figure 20b.
Figure 20. No. 1 size redesigned burner per Wilmot’s March 17, 1874 patent. The thumbwheel is marked the same as that in Figure 16a.
Figure 20a. Detail, burner deflector supports.
Figure 20b. Detail, burner base rim with “MARCH.17.1874” added to the September 19, 1865 and October 25, 1870 dates appearing on previous burner examples.
Besides the Collins-type interior tension burners, the chimneyless burner in Figure 21 was made by The Wilmot Manufacturing Company. One thumbwheel is marked “THE WILMOT MFG. CO. BRIDGEPORT CT.” and the other, “HUTCHINSONS PATENT” (Figure 21a). Henry Hutchinson’s patent of Jan. 3, 1865 is for a center draft burner that forms two flat wicks into a circular wick.
Figure 21. Figure 21a.
Figure 21. No. 1 size chimneyless burner made per Hutchinson’s patent of January 3, 1865.
Figure 21a. Detail, the thumbwheels are marked “THE WILMOT MFG. CO. BRIDGEPORT CT.” and “HUTCHINSONS PATENT”.
The Wilmot Manufacturing Company also made other kerosene lighting articles besides burners. One is the brass shade (Figure 22) pictured on the letterhead in Figure 8, labeled “Imperial Shade”. The shades are found in plain brass and tin-plated brass. One example has been found that is patent dated, with the chimney clamp (Figure 22a) being stamped “PAT’D JULY.4.1865 REIS MAY.25. 1869”. Both patents were granted to Cornelius St. John for a shade that has reflective and adjustable panels.
Figure 22. Figure 22a.
Figure 22. Brass shade like that labeled “IMPERIAL SHADE” on Figure 8 letterhead.
Figure 22a. Detail, chimney clamp marked “PAT’D JULY.4.1865 REIS.MAY.25.1869.”
Another article is a miniature lamp (Figure 23) which is embossed “WILMOT M'F'G CO.” on one side of the glass font and “TRIUMPH” on the opposite side (Figure 23a). The burner is not marked, but it conforms to Eli Blackham’s patent of January 15, 1878. The patent is for a hinged chimney-holding top piece which opens to clean and light the wick (Figure 23b). Blackham assigned his patent to The Wilmot Manufacturing Company.
Figure 23. Figure 23a. Figure 23b.
Figure 23. Miniature lamp embossed “WILMOT M'F'G CO.” on one side of the font.
Figure 23a. Detail, opposite side of the font is embossed “TRIUMPH”.
Figure 23b. Detail, Blackman’s patented burner in open position.
In comparison with other kerosene burner manufacturers, Wilmot’s career in lighting was relatively short, his most interesting company, from the standpoint of burner design, was the Wilmot Manufacturing Company, which lasted about ten years or so. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Why, for instance, did he feel the need to manufacture his burners through a parallel company while at Bridgeport Brass? Perhaps he wanted greater flexibility and control over the marketing of his patented burners? Or more fundamentally, why did he leave lighting behind and move on to the manufacture of more industrial type products? A sense of changing markets and the need to move with the times? Or a personal need to give his inventive talents different and more interesting challenges? The answers to these questions are not and may never be known. What is clear, though, is that the kerosene burners patented and manufactured by Samuel Russell Wilmot are some of the most unusual and interesting of the 1870’s.
I would like to thank Chuck Leib for all his research on Samuel Wilmot’s many companies. And thanks to Larry DeCan for information on the name change from Wilmot & Hotchkiss Manufacturing Company to Wilmot Manufacturing Company. And lastly, thanks to Dan Edminster and Mel Zaloudek for their help.
All the burners pictured are in the author’s collection and all burner photographs were taken by the author unless otherwise noted.
Copyright © 2021 by Jeffrey J. Smith. All Rights Reserved.
 George Curtis Waldo comp., The Standard’s History of Bridgeport (Bridgeport, CT: Standard Association, 1897), 45.
 Samuel Orcutt, A History of the Old Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport, Part 2. (New Haven CT: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1886), 746.
 R. Merrill & W. Carleton, U.S. Patent No. 90,863, issued June 1, 1869; S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 195,241, issued September 18, 1877; J.F. Sanford (dec’d) U.S. Patent No. RE8,969, issued November 18, 1879 (assigned to D. Kissam of Benedict & Burnham Mfg. Co.); and D. Kissam, U.S. Patent No. 226,176. Issued April 6, 1880 (assigned to Benedict & Burnham Mfg. Co.).
 P. Essig & Co. was probably a retailer.
 J. Dodin, U.S. Patent No. 39,524, issued August 11, 1863 (assigned to James Edgar).
 S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 48,860, issued July 18, 1865.
 S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 166,670, issued August 10, 1875.
 George Curtis Waldo, JR., ed., History of Bridgeport and Vicinity, Vol. 1 (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1917). 167.
 Waldo, Standard’s History of Bridgeport, 145-146.
 Waldo, Jr., History of Bridgeport and Vicinity, 167.
 [An Act] Changing the Name of The Wilmot and Hotchkiss Manufacturing Company to The Wilmot Manufacturing Company, 6 [Conn.] Spec. Acts 717 (1872) (approved July 8, 1869).
 Deposition of David G. Thayer, November 15, 1877, p.4, in Benedict and Burnham Manufacturing Company v. Thayer, New York Supreme Court, General Term 1880, Vol. 15 (New York: Charles M. Cornwell, 1880).
 Deposition of David G. Thayer, p. 5.
 Petition of David G. Thayer, p. 1, in People of the State of New York ex rel. Thayer v. Bowe, New York Supreme Court, General Term 1880, Vol. 15 (New York: Charles M Cornwell, 1880).
 S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 70,383, issued October 29, 1867.
 S.W. Fowler, U.S. Patent No. 73,443, issued January 21, 1868.
 A. Judson, U.S. Patent No. 31,983, issued April 9, 1861; J. Ridge, U.S. Patent No. 37,144, issued December 9, 1862; S.W. Fowler, U.S. Patent No. 72,010, issued December 10, 1867.
 M.H. Collins, U.S. Patent No. 49,984, issued September 19, 1865.
 S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 108,078, issued October 4, 1870; S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 108,667, issued October 25, 1870.
 This base design also was used on the burners in Figures 9 & 14.
 J.F. Babcock, W.A. Leonard, E.B. Crane, U.S. Patent No. 136,953, issued March 18, 1873; and M.A. Lynch, U.S. Patent No. 139,255, issued May 27, 1873.
 H.J. Warren, U.S. Patent No. 163,556, issued May 18, 1875.
 L. Tobey, U.S. Patent No. 167,281, issued August 31, 1875.
 S.R. Wilmot, U.S. Patent No. 148,794, issued March 17, 1874.
 H.C. Hutchinson, U.S. Patent No. 45,719, issued January 3, 1865.
 C. St. John, U.S. Patent No. 48,632, issued July 4, 1865; and U.S. Patent No. RE 3,458, issued May 25, 1869.
 E.J. Blackham, U.S. Patent No. 199,254, issued January 15, 1878 (assigned to The Wilmot Manufacturing Company).
 The assignment of Blackham’s patent to The Wilmot Manufacturing Company indicates the company was still operating in 1878.
 When The Wilmot Manufacturing Company ceased operation is unknown.