Lighting – Acetylene Generator

In days gone by the lighting for Earle’s Chapel Church was provided by the bright flame of burning Acetylene gas generated on the site. Popular in the 20s, 30s, and 40s the lighting system for the church was provided by commercial model of an Acetylene generator and gas burning system. The system still sits behind the church where it has been for nearly 100 years. It is not currently in use.

IRead more about Acetylene generators…

In 1862, it was discovered that calcium carbide decomposes in water and produces a flammable gas, called acetylene.  In the early 1890s,  calcium carbide was being commercially produced, after the invention of the electRric furnace.  Coke and limestone are heated in the electric furnace to create calcium carbide (CaC2).

Late in the 19th century there were many inventors filing patents for “acetylene generators”.  These were self contained devices that generated and stored acetylene by either dropped pellets of calcium carbide into water, or dripped water onto the calcium carbide.  The gas was then captured in a “bell” that would rise and fall with the volume of gas.  The gas was then slightly pressurized and piped into the building.

Sure, there was the danger of explosion.  It was probably not a good idea to refill the generator at night, holding a candle or open flame lantern. Leaks could be an issue, but you would likely smell it . Acetylene has been described as having a nauseating odor, similar to rotten garlic.

One pound of calcium carbide could produce about 4.5 cubic feet of acetylene, making it cheaper to fuel lighting than oil, kerosene or “city gas”.  It also creates a brilliant white light, much brighter than with the other fuels available.