In the first half of the twentieth-century there were three great lighting companies:
- E. F. Caldwell
- Lion Electric
Caldwell was by far the best. The company made truly exquisite lighting and they were the #1 choice for architects across the country. Indeed, when McKim, Mead & White redesigned the White House in 1902 for Theodore Roosevelt, they specified Caldwell fixtures throughout the famous building. Today, many of these fixtures remain, including the three iconic chandeliers in the East Room.
Caldwell closed in 1959, but had stopped producing truly incredibly lighting just before Wold War II. After the war, the company shifted to more standard fixtures and fluorescent lamps. Luckily, the company archive was acquired by the Smithsonian.
No American company produced the kind of quality fixtures for which Caldwell was celebrated.
So, a very distant second place would go to Lion Electric. However, even though a distant second, Lion nonetheless created stunning, high-quality lighting. I know nothing about the company, and have only ever offered fixtures by Lion made in the 1920s. Was this the only decade for which Lion Electric operated?
I suspect that Lion Electric did not stay in business long as their fixtures were so over-the-top in terms of manufacturing costs.
I love Lion, and over the years have acquired numerous fixtures by the company. Some of my favorite-ever fixtures are by Lion.
Incredibly, the Lightolier Company is extant today, although they have not made truly distinctive lighting since the mid-1970s.
It is a pleasure restoring vintage lighting, particularly Lightolier fixtures as they were so beautifully made.
Lightolier was able to do something which Lion Electric apparently could not do: create high-quality lighting, and make money. Starting in the 1920s, Lightolier produced gorgeous, luscious lighting, and during the ensuing decades was in the vanguard of innovation.
Lightolier prices were about twice the price of seemingly comparable fixtures by other lighting companies. This premium was for the quality, design, and the Lightolier name. Kinda like the difference between a Chevy and a Rolls-Royce. This premium still applies today.
The company was headquartered in New York City, and in the early years of the Depression they invested in a new showroom:
Some of the most remarkable lighting of the 1950s was created by Lightolier. The company continued to create remarkable lighting until about 1975.
I love Lightolier so much that I have a special Lightolier category at my online store.
There are other lighting companies I love, such as Gill Glass, which created stunning fixtures, but the three companies above were responsible for the very best lighting in America during the early to mid twentieth-century.
My online store.