Milton and Robin Meisner and Family <the.meisners@...>
In my research I was studying the occupations of the neighbors of
my great grandparents' family in Rzeszow and Nowy Sacz, Galicia, and
there were Naphtha dealers and distillers. I had wondered about the
uses for it back then, and I had also wondered exactly how the gas
got into the home for the lamps and heat. Here is what I found when
I was reading in various historical sites. I cannot attest to its
accuracy but only that it is of great interest, and seemed like an
interesting topic as we attempt to understand the daily lives of our
A description of uses for Naphtha circa 1890, in addition to heating
To destroy ants nests by injecting into the nest.
To repel moths by soaking cloth in Naphtha.
To remove oil stains >from marble by mixing with chalk or whiting.
To remove paint and old wax >from woodwork and wood floors.
To polish copper kettles by dipping a cloth in Naphtha and sprinkling
bath brick or pumice on it.
To clean bathtubs and washbowls in a bathroom.
To eliminate bed bugs by washing down the mattress with Naphtha on a
sponge and by washing down the beadstead with the stuff.
To freshen faded carpets by going over it with a broom or whisk broom
moistened with Naphtha.
To wash delicate fabrics in such as silk or curtains.
To wash woolen fabrics in and goatskin rugs.
To wash floor coverings with to remove fleas >from them.
To wash gloves. Wearing them on the hands, gloves can be washed in
Naphtha the same way as washing your hands.
To clean your sewing machine.
To remove grease >from a stove.
To clean upholstered furniture by saturating with Naphtha and scrubbing
stained areas with a brush.
To add to water for washing windows.
Naphtha tanks were buried next to houses and the vapor fanned into
pipes for gas lighting and gas stoves. In many of these uses
Naphtha can be substituted with kerosene, benzene or gasoline. (It
wasn't wise to smoke on wash day!)
They also used gasoline vaporizers for gas lighting. These
vaporizers would have been in the basement. They would have a large
weight that would be reset periodically like a grandfather clock.
The weight would compress and vaporize the gas to be used for
lighting and cooking. There is one of these contraptions in the
Smithsonian. Also people had carbide tanks buried in the back yard.
In these you mix carbide crystals and water to produce acetylene gas
for lighting and cooking.
By far, the biggest gas used for lighting overall was coal gas, also
called "Town Gas." There were more than 50,000 coal gas plants built
in the USA over a 125 year period. I am researching the use of Coal
Gas in Poland. Overall in Europe, particularly the UK, the advent of
incandescent gas lighting in factories, homes and in the streets,
replacing oil lamps and candles with steady clear light, almost
matching daylight in its color, turned night into day for many.
This made night shift work possible in industries where light was
all important such as in spinning, weaving, tailoring, etc.
The social significance of this change is difficult to appreciate
for those of us in generations brought up with lighting after dark
available at the touch of a switch. In fact is was a tremendous
facilitator of change and development. Not only was industrial
production accelerated, but streets were made safe, social
interaction facilitated and reading and writing made more
widespread. Gas works were built in almost every town, main streets
were brightly illuminated and gas was piped in the streets to the
majority of urban households.
The invention of the gas meter and the pre-payment meter in the
late 1880s played an important role in selling town gas to domestic
and commercial customers. In Eastern Europe the smaller shtetlach
would not have had this but the larger cities such as Krakow, Sacz,
Lemberg, Rzeszow would have, n'est-ce pas? The same dealer in
Rzeszow for instance, who dealt in Naphtha also dealt in Coal
according to the 1891 Galicia Business Directory.
Also, did you know that Naphtha replaced Whale Oil for Lamps? Actual
Whale oil! Well call me Ishmael (Quote >from "Moby Dick" about the
whaling voyagers). Who knew?
History is simply fascinating. Please do share your knowledge on
these or other daily life facts in the early to late 1800s. I am
writing a semi-biographical illustrated historical novel about our
family for the future generations, and any wisdom >from my fellow
researchers would be appreciated!
Milton and Robin Meisner