Our Olive Oil Lamp: A Fixture of the Rural Night

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I have come to know darkness as a fact of rural life. When the sun sets over the Green Mountains, ceasing to bathe the lush Vermont landscape in its golden evening light, the darkness of night makes itself abundantly known. Continue reading

Dietz Lanterns: Lighting the Future

Gerry Dietz retired as President of R.E. Dietz in 1967, and his brother John became the President. In 1970, they closed the Syracuse factory and moved their remaining kerosene lantern production to Hong Kong.

Ten years later, the Hong Kong factory was manufacturing 1.5 million lanterns per year, becoming a great success. Dietz was still innovating, producing a line of battery powered emergency flashers for highway construction and floating traffic lights for barges. Records from the period show that, at times, Dietz had cash reserves of more than $600,000.

The Dietz Original Lantern is available today. Click on the image above to order.)

But running the factory half a world away must have been difficult even though Dietz had talented managers in Hong Kong. For example, the “76” lantern, meant to commemorate the Bicentennial, was produced two years late, in 1978! That was one year after I started working at Lehman’s, and I still remember receiving the first shipment of those lanterns.

1978 was also the year that John Dietz retired. The presidency was taken over by Edward Reynolds, the first non-family member to run R.E. Dietz. And, demand Continue reading

Dietz Lanterns: Surviving the Great Depression

John Dietz wasn’t destined to have the same success that his father, Robert Dietz, and brother, Frederick Dietz had running the R.E. Dietz lantern company. Although R.E. Dietz would continue growing until 1923, the Great Depression would eventually bring the company to its knees.

His son, Robert E Dietz II, was described as the only hope that, “Our family name Dietz will (be) perpetuated.” But, John’s brother, Frederick said of Robert, “Owing to his nervous temperament he could not stand the strain of office confinement and was obliged to temporarily seek outdoor life.” It seems that whether or not the R.E. Dietz company would continue to be led by a member of the Dietz family in the future was in question. Robert II eventually left Dietz and moved to New Mexico, where he took up farming. Continue reading

Dietz Lanterns: Lighting America

Fred Dietz, the second generation leader of the R.E. Dietz lantern company

In 1894, after more than 50 years at the helm of the RE Dietz company he started, Robert Dietz retired at the age of 76. He left his son, Frederick (now 45) in charge.

Frederick was just as innovative as his father. He registered 25 new patents for lantern design. He also applied his skills to marketing. He designed a unique Dietz logo, obtained trademarks and upgraded company catalogs. He set up a sales organization, and even hired a salesperson to circumnavigate the globe, marketing their lanterns in India, Japan and (foreshadowing the company’s future) China. A book published by RE Dietz in 1913 (and, admittedly, co-authored by Frederick himself), says, “There is no one living who has greater knowledge of the birth and growth of the lantern industry.” Continue reading

Dietz Lanterns: Innovation in Lighting

Robert E Dietz at about the time he founded R.E. Dietz

On a warm summer day 171 years ago, a young man named Robert Edwin Dietz gave up his job at a hardware store in New York to buy a struggling lamp company. He had been experimenting with lamps since he was a teenager, trying to figure out how to make them brighter. Now, at the ripe old age of 22, he was ready to put his ideas into practice. He was a true entrepreneur with a dream and the guts to pursue it.

By the end of his first year in business, he had saved up $600 (about $14,000 in today’s dollars). By the end of the second year, he decided he was busy enough to take on a partner, his older brother William. In 1845, their fledgling company made the jump from simple candle lanterns to more complicated lanterns that burned sperm whale oil.

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