The Cahoon Manufacturing Company: Maine’s Early Kerosene Burner Manufacturer
By Jeffrey J. Smith
One of the early kerosene burner manufacturers was the Cahoon Manufacturing Co., which made burners patented by their founder, Charles W. Cahoon. Cahoon based his business in his home state of Maine. It was the largest and may have been the only maker of kerosene burners in the state. This article will present some of the history of Cahoon and his company and describe the burners they produced.
Charles William Cahoon was born to James B. and Martha Cahoon in Portland, Maine on April 11th, 1824. The US Census of 1850 lists Charles as living in his parent’s household in Portland and his occupation as “Merchant”. Interestingly, his father’s occupation was listed as “Mayor”. The 1860 Census shows him still living with his parents, but his occupation was not listed. In the 1870 census Cahoon is still residing at home with his mother (his father was deceased by then) and his occupation listed as “Lamp Manufacturer”.
Figure 1 Figure 2
Figure 1. Advertisement. Courtesy Rushlight Member Charles Leib.
Figure 2. Cahoon Manufacturing Co. infringement settlement demand. (Courtesy Rushlight Club member David Broughton).
Cahoon didn’t start in the lighting business at first; he was interested in the farming industry. Figure 1 is an advertisement for a seed sower patented by Cahoon in 1857 which was so successful, he had to protect his patent in court against an infringement. The case was important enough to be described in an agricultural journal. He won the infringement suit, demonstrating his willingness to protect his patent rights, which continued throughout his lifetime. He would sue all the companies making hinged burners like those discussed below for patent infringement, and he was successful. An interesting notice (Figure 2) has been found that was sent to dealers selling infringing burners, demanding a $15.00 payment for a retailer’s license, and threatening legal proceedings “without delay” if not paid. Although only one defendant, Adams, is mentioned, the list of burner manufacturers that settled infringement claims with Cahoon were all the companies making hinged burners at that time.
Charles W. Cahoon, along with his father James B. Cahoon and George W. Cahoon, started a company in Portland, Maine to manufacture his patented burners. The Cahoon Manufacturing Company was incorporated on Jan. 31, 1862 and the factory was located on the corner of Congress St. and Myrtle St. in downtown Portland. This factory was built after the “Great Portland Fire of 1866”. It is unknown where the previous factory was located or if the new factory was built on the site of the old factory. The city block where this factory was built was called the “Cahoon Block”.
Cahoon Mfg. Co. Burners
All but one of the burners that Charles W. Cahoon patented and manufactured were meant for small finger lamps or night lamp types. They used #0 size lip chimneys with a fitter of 1-3/8”. One lone example was meant for stand lamps which used a #1 size lip chimney with a fitter of 1-5/8” and was the largest burner made by the Cahoon Mfg. Co. A receipt from 1865 (Figure 3) states, “Cahoon’s Patent Kerosene Burners” were sold by Wyman & Tyler of Boston, Mass. who were “Sole Agents for the Cahoon Manufacturing Company”.
Positioning of the burner handle in relationship to the lamp handle was very important to Mr. Cahoon. All his burners were designed with this concept in mind. The burners were mostly made of brass with some sheet iron that was tinned. Cahoon burners were made of thinner brass than other burners of the period and had a lot of hand soldering work. These factors probably led to durability problems. Three examples pictured and described here were advertised in the Dietz & Co. catalog on plate #38 as the Imperial, Taper, and Cottage burners.
Figure 3. Wyman & Tyler receipt dated April 7, 1865, showing the firm as agents for the Cahoon
Manufacturing Co. (Courtesy Rushlight Club member Charles Leib).
Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6
Figure 4. Cahoon Manufacturing Co.’s first production burner, top closed.
Figure 5. Top open.
Figure 6. Detail, interior and wick-pick.
The first burner manufactured by the Cahoon Mfg. Co. is pictured in Figures 4 & 5. It’s a string-wick example that uses a wick-pick (Figure 6) to adjust the wick position. It has two parts (Figure 7), a burner base that screws into the lamp collar and a burner top with an arm and handle, that clamps on the collar (Figure 8). The clamp allowed the burner handle to be adjusted to a comfortable position. The collar clamp (Figure 9) is marked with the patent date Feb. 19, 1861. Of the 5 claims stated in the patent, only the claim of the thumb lever raising the chimney applies to this burner. What indicates that this is the first burner manufactured by the Cahoon Mfg. Co. is the fact that all the rest of Cahoon’s burners are marked with a second 1861 patent date and because this burner only has the Feb. 19, 1861 date, it was manufactured before the second patent was granted.
Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9
Figure 7. Burner disassembled.
Figure 8. Clamp detail.
Figure 9. . Patent marking, “CHA’S W. CAHOON PATENTED FEB. 19th 1861”.
Figure 10. Wick-pick burner with both 1861 patent dates and Greek key design. (Courtesy Rush-light Club member Hugh Pribell).
Another wick-pick example (Figure 10) has both 1861 patent dates and a Greek Key decoration. It was manufactured after the second patent was granted.
Figure 11 Figure 12 Figure 13
Figure 11. Tom Thumb burner. Top closed.
Figure 12. Top open.
Figure 13. Burner disassembled.
The next example (Figures 11 & 12) is a two-part string-wick burner (Figure 13) which has a thumbwheel, instead of a wick-pick, to raise or lower the wick. The top, with a handle and arm assembly, is clamped on the burner base, not the lamp collar (Figure 14). This allows for adjusting the position of the burner handle in relationship to both the lamp handle and burner base. The handle is marked (Figure 15) with two patent dates, Feb. 19, 1861 and Dec. 3, 1861. The second date is for two Cahoon patents. The first of these two patents (#33,824) claims the collar clamp and crimping on the handle to limit travel. The second patent (#33,825) claims the wick pick and the design of the top and base of the burner. This burner also conforms to Cahoon’s patent of Sept. 16, 1862 for a grooved clamp to hold the burner base and the vertical ribbing on the burner skirt. The thumbwheel is marked “TOM THUMB DIRIGO” (Figure 16). Dirigo is Latin for “I Direct”.
Figure 14 Figure 15 Figure 16
Figure 14. Clamp detail.
Figure 15. Handle with patent dates.
Figure 16. Thumbwheel marked “TOM THUMB DIRIGO”.
The string-wick burner in Figures 17 & 18 is a one-piece example that is very similar to the burner in Figures 11 & 12 but has a built-in finger hold. The handle is marked with the same two 1861 patent dates shown in Fig. 15. The finger hold is marked “TOM THUMB DIRIGO” (Figure 19) and the thumbwheel marking is identical to Fig. 16. The burner would be used on a small lamp without a handle which eliminates the need to position the burner handle. The burner is not marked with the date, but conforms to Cahoon’s patent #36,386 of Sept. 2, 1862 for the finger hold.
Figure 17 Figure 18 Figure 19
Figure 17. Tom Thumb burner,
Figure 18. Top open.
Figure 19. Finger hold marked “TOM THUMB DIRIGO”.
The next string-wick burner (Figure 20 & Figure 21) is a two-piece example (Figure 22) with the two 1861 patent dates on the handle as in Figure 15 and the same thumbwheel information as in Figure 16. The position of the handle was fixed by cementing the handle arm under the collar (Figure 23). This design made alignment of the burner handle unnecessary.
Figure 20 Figure 21
Figure 20. Third Tom Thumb burner variant.
Figure 21. Burner open.
Figure 22 Figure 23
Figure 22. Burner apart.
Figure 23. Handle cemented under collar.
The burner pictured in Figure 24 & 25 is the first flat-wick example. It’s a one-piece burner with the clamp permanently attached to the base by a rivet. The burner has the two 1861 patent dates on the handle like Figure 15. It is not marked with the date but conforms to Cahoon’s patent of Oct. 13, 1863. It has an extra piece of metal (Figure 26) to reinforce the handle (to prevent bending), an indent in the clamp to stop rotation of the base, a perforated skirt instead of a ribbed one and a screw (Figure 27) to lock the burner handle in the desired position. The screw is tightened to the collar to limit how far the burner can be screwed in, thus adjusting the position of the burner handle. The thumbwheel on this example (Figure 28) is marked with a new name, “COTTAGE DIRIGO”. Interestingly, the back side of the thumbwheel is marked “TOM THUMB DIRIGO” like the string-wick burners. Maybe left-over thumbwheels were reused for the new burners. This burner is shown in the Dietz & Co. catalog, plate #38, labeled “Cottage”.
Figure 24 Figure 25
Figure 24. Cottage burner.
Figure 25. Burner open .
Figure 26 Figure 27 Figure 28
Figure 26. Handle detail (marked the same as Figure 9).
Figure 27. Lockdown screw.
Figure 28. Thumbwheel marked “COTTAGE DIRIGO”.
The one-piece flat-wick burner in Figure 29 & 30 is almost identical to the burner in Figure 24 & 25 except the handle doesn’t have the extra piece of metal for support, per the Oct. 13, 1863 patent. Instead, it has a larger handle swivel (Figure 31) which would be sturdier and would also save on material and labor costs. The thumbwheel is marked the same as Figure 28, but the back of the thumbwheel is blank.
Figure 29 Figure 30 Figure 31
Figure 29. Cottage variant.
Figure 30. Burner open.
Figure 31. Handle detail.
The next one-piece burner (Figure 32 & 33) is a flat-wick example that has some differences from the previous burners described. It is a shorter version with a sheet iron top that was tin plated. The lock down screw (Figure 34) is different, it doesn’t have a head, just two flat spots 180’ apart to grip the screw when it is tightened. The reason for the lack of a head on the screw is it would interfere with the top when the burner is closed. This is the burner named “Taper” shown in the Dietz & Co. catalog, plate #38. It has the same handle and thumbwheel markings as Figure 15 and Figure 16.
Figure 32 Figure 33 Figure 34
Figure 32. Taper burner.
Figure 33. Burner open.
Figure 34. Lockdown screw.
The last burner (Figure 35 & 36) is also a one-piece flat-wick example and the largest that the Cahoon Mfg. Co. produced. It takes a larger chimney and wick and was intended for use with a stand lamp, therefore positioning of the burner handle was unnecessary. The burner has a perforated skirt with a plate on the bottom that has two tabs 180’ apart that would prevent twisting of the burner top (Figure 37). The base has a lamp filler (Figure 38) that is accessed by lifting a cover so the lamp can be filled without removing the burner (Figure 39). The handle has a locking feature (Figure 40 & 41) that prevented the top and chimney from opening accidentally. To open the top of the burner, the lower tab must be pushed up to unlock the handle.
Figure 35 Figure 36 Figure 37
Figure 35. Imperial burner.
Figure 36. Burner open.
Figure 37. Burner base.
Figure 38 Figure 39 Figure 40
Figure 38. Filler detail.
Figure 39. Filler cover.
Figure 40. Handle in locked position.
The handle is marked on the swivel plate (Figure 42) with the dates of Feb. 19 & Dec. 3, 1861, Sept. 2 & 16, 1862 and Oct. 13, 1863. The Oct. 13, 1863 date is for two patents by Cahoon and are the main ones for this burner. The thumbwheel (Figure 43) is marked “IMPERIAL DIRIGO”. This burner is pictured in the Dietz & Co. catalog, plate #38, labeled “Imperial”.
Figure 41 Figure 42 Figure 43
Figure 41. Handle in unlocked position.
Figure 42. Handle patent dates.
Figure 43. Thumbwheel marked “IMPERIAL DIRIGO”.
The Cahoon Mfg. Co. made an interesting framework (Figure 44 & 45) that used a #1 size Jones burner. Burners by other manufacturers do not fit the frame, they are too short. It has a collar clamp like the burner in Figures 4 & 5, so its position can be adjusted. The chimney attaches to the top (Figure 46). It is marked on the side of the handle (Figure 47) with the date of Feb. 19, 1861. The frame conforms more to the Dec. 3, 1861 patent (#33,824). It was made in this size and a smaller size for a #0 size Jones burner.
Figure 44 Figure 45
Figure 44. Cahoon framework with #1 Jones burner.
Figure 45. Framework open.
Figure 46 Figure 47
Figure 46. Top with chimney mounts.
Figure 47. Handle patent dates.
Another frame (Figure 48 & 49) of a different design was manufactured and was clamped on the top of the burner, not on the collar. It fits a small #0 size Jones burner, and possibly burners by other manufacturers, and was positioned by a small tab (Figure 50) that would fit between the petals on the coronet. It is not known if this was made in a larger size. It is marked on the handle with the patent date of Feb. 19, 1861 and would also conform more to the Dec. 3, 1861 patent (#33,824).
Figure 48 Figure 49 Figure 50
Figure 48. #0 size framework for Jones burner (missing deflector and chimney clip).
Figure 49. Framework open.
Figure 50. Detail tab alignment.
Scientific American published a paragraph about his burner inventions after Mr. Cahoon passed away. (Figure 51). The article also mentions him winning his infringement lawsuit against the companies that were making hinged burners.
Mr. Cahoon died on April 25th, 1877. Figure 52 is a record of his death in 1877 from “paralysis”. The death records of his parents also list the cause of death as “paralysis”. Charles William Cahoon is buried at Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine. Figure 53 is a photograph of his grave.
Figure 51 Figure 52
Figure 51. June 16, 1877 Scientific American article on Charles W. Cahoon.
Figure 52. Charles W. Cahoon's death record.
Figure 53. Charles W. Cahoon's grave.
When the Cahoon Mfg. Co. ceased operations is unknown but more than likely it ended with the death of Mr. Cahoon. The company must have been quite successful considering how many of their burners have survived. Charles W. Cahoon’s patented burners are very interesting and unusual in design and examples are included in many collections.
I would like to thank Rushlight members Charles Leib, David Broughton and Hugh Pribell for all their help providing information about Charles W. Cahoon and the Cahoon Mfg. Co. Without their contributions, this article would not have been possible. All photographs were taken by the author and all burners are in his collection unless otherwise noted.
Copyright © 2019 by Jeffrey J. Smith. All rights reserved.
 J.B. Cahoon was Portland’s Mayor in the years: 1849-1850 & 1853-1854.
 Guide Book for Portland and Vicinity to which is appended a Summary History of Portland, by Hon. Wm. Willis published by B. Thurston and J.F. Richardson (Commercial News Room, 79 Middle St. 1859).
 Patent #18,083 by Charles W. Cahoon on Sept. 1, 1857.
 The Valley Farmer, 1859.
 The relationship of George W. Cahoon to Charles and James Cahoon is unknown.
 Acts and Resolves Passed by the Forty First Legislature of the State of Maine. (Pub. Kennebec Journal Dec. 31, 1862). Pg. 131.
 Facebook. “Portland Maine History 1786 to Present”.
 The Dietz & Company Illustrated Catalogue Established 1840 (Pub. America Life Foundation and Study Institute. Watkins Glen, NY. 1982.) Plate #38.
 Patent #31,511 by Charles W. Cahoon on Feb. 19, 1861. Assigned to James B. Cahoon. Reissued on Aug. 9, 1864 #1,735 and assigned to the Cahoon Mfg. Co.
 Patents #33,824 & #33,825 by Charles W. Cahoon on Dec. 3, 1861. Patent #33,825 reissued on Feb. 25, 1868 #2,874.
 Most of the claims in these two patents apply to the burner in Figures 4 & 5 even though the burner is not marked with the Dec. 3, 1861 date.
 Patent #36,451 by Charles W. Cahoon on Sept. 16, 1862.
 Dirigo is the motto of the State of Maine and is included in the state seal.
 Patent #36,386 by Charles W. Cahoon on Sept. 2, 1862.
 Patent #40,241 by Charles W. Cahoon on Oct. 13, 1863.
 Patent #40,240 by Charles W. Cahoon on Oct. 13, 1863.
 Scientific American. Vol. 36, No. 24, June 16, 1877 Pg. 377.
 ‘Paralysis’ may have been a stroke.