Model T Ford Lighting Systems
Throughout the production life of the Model T Ford there were two types of lighting systems supplied. In the early years, before "electric" cars were available, all Model T's were supplied with Acetylene Gas Lamps for headlights and Kerosene side and tail lamps. Later cars were fitted with electric lighting, initially powered by the magneto system, then with the introduction of full electrification, powered by the generator and storage battery sytems. Each type of these is detailed below:
Acetylene Lamps and Generators
What is an Acetylene Lamp?
An Acetylene Lamp is a headlight fueled by Acetylene Gas. The Acetylene gas is created in the Acetylene Generator mounted on the running board and piped to the lamps by rubber tubes. The driver is required to start the generator running, then open the front lense cover of each headlight and light the gas to produce the flame that the headlight lense then reflected. The Acetylene Lamps fitted to Model T Fords were always of brass construction and were supplied by various manufacturers.
How does the generator make gas?
The Acetylene Generator is a tank that is divided into two sections. The lower section contains a wire basket that holds a substance called Calcium Carbide, the upper section contains ordinary water. When the lights need to be lit, a small valve is openend on the top of the generator, that allows water to drip through onto the Calcium Carbide. A chemical reaction occurs between the two subtances and Acetylene Gas is released as a result. The gas then flows through the rubber supply tubes to the headlights. The faster the water drip rate, the more gas is produced.
Various manufacturers supplied both Acetylene lamps and generators to the Ford company. Here are some examples.
A Vasco Acetylene Generator
Various types of Kerosene (also known as Paraffin) lamps were fitted to Model T Fords, up until their deletion in the 1920's. Initially, the lamps supplied were ornate full brass models with square bodies. Henry Ford then adapted to a rounded body lamp, painted black with brass trim until the lamps eventually became all black.
All types were fueled by Kerosene using a wick burner supply that was lit by opening the lense door, the front sidelamps having clear lenses and the single rear lamp, a red lense.
Examples of the different styles are shown below:
Return to the Model T Ford Central Technical Page