Hans Hanson was born in Denmark in September 1870. His father, an iron-founder, died when Hans was only 10 years old, and a few years later Hans and his mother emigrated to the new world of America, where he worked in the family trade as a blacksmith in Albert Lea, a little town in Minnesota with a strong Danish migrant population. Some time towards the end of the 19th Century, Hans became interested in lighting devices and with his partner C. Edwards, he began experimenting with gasoline as a fuel, and was making light generating appliances as early as 1896. He formed a partnership with Thomas Hjort in 1903, and the American Gas Company was born. Hans Hanson became known as "Gas" Hanson, a name that lives on today in the form of a small island off Lake View Bvd, Albert Lea. In a short time, AGM products became known for their reliability, and the company grew rapidly in size.
Postcard showing the AGM factory, thought to be mid 1920s.
The American Gas Machine Company became a strong competitor to Coleman in the USA, and Hanson is generally credited with inventing the outdoor cooking stove, but his company produced many different types of lamps and lanterns as well. The earliest pictures I have seen of AGM lamps appear in the 1912 company catalogue, which depicts several table lamps, as well as hollow wire fittings. It is known that the company was supplying street lighting equipment several years before this date.
The company was also producing lanterns for outdoor use, and by 1915 at least two models were available. Models 334 and 335 were rated at 400cp, both burned gasoline, had automatic tip cleaners and mica chimneys, and like most lamps of the time, used an external pump to pressurize the tank.
The name American Gas Machine Co does not seem to appear anywhere in UK advertising, yet it would be expected that AGM would have competed strongly with Coleman in the European market between the wars. It is possible that AGM may have used agents who sold the products under a different name. One candidate is the Stanley Lamp Company, whose table lamp advertised in 1922 has a fount which bears a resemblance to the shape of early AGM lamps. Other Stanley lamps which appear to be identical to the AGM P67. The Stanley logo is embossed onto a plate that is soldered onto the steel underside of the base, and included are the words "Made in USA". It seems certain that this design was made by AGM, but there is a slender chance that another US manufacturer may have made a copy, possibly under licence. AGM products were also badged for Murray & Esser Lighting and Supply Company, Washington.
By the 1930s AGM marketed a wide range of lanterns, including models 57, 100, 101, 102, 257, 258, 267, 268, 277, 278, 287, 288, 335, 595, 3606, 3608, 3614 and 3618. and lamps, including 53, 76, 243, 254, 256, 461, P66 and P72. Some of these products bear a resemblance to Coleman lanterns, probably due to the fierce competition between Hanson's and Coleman's companies. There was also some cross licensing of various patents, and later the two companies were to share expertise and work together during World War 2. In fact, AGM marketed some of their model (eg 100, 101 and 102) as "Instant-Light", no doubt in direct competition with Coleman. Eventually, AGM produced over 75 different designs of pressure lights.
Gas Hanson died suddenly of a heart attack in June 1934, and his son Russell Hanson took over the company. It was a time of widespread unrest, and with the growing force of workers uniting to form strong unions, it wasn't long before AGM and other companies ran into serious difficulties with labour relations. In 1937 a strike paralyzed the company, 54 strikers were arrested, and a riot followed. AGM suffered permanent damage that resulted in bankruptcy in 1940. The manufacturing works were taken over by Queen Stove Works, itself later to become part of King-Seeley-Thermos. As far as I know, no lamps or lanterns were produced after 1968, when the KampLite and KookLite production runs ended. The AGM trade name was kept on for some time after the demise of the original company. Brand names such as KampLite and JC Higgins continued to be used for the mail order catalogue houses.
The twin mantle ReadyLite lamp shown above was found somewhere in Quebec. Note the long pump extending from the base, and the internal cleaning lever
AGM 288 by Bill Barrett
This is an AGM model 288 Ready-Lite from around 1926. The same lantern without the reflector rim would be model 287. There is no model number visible on the lantern anywhere, but the bottom of the fount is stamped with the maker's name, and the patent number.
AGM were partners in the design and manufacture of a military lantern for use in the 1940s. These lanterns were designed by a consortium of four companies lead by the US army, who produced the initial specifications. Coleman, AGM, Akron, and Aladdin were all involved, and once the design was finalised, all four companies manufactured the lantern. It was used by the military during WW2, the Korean war and the Vietnam war. Later, Aladdin produced a kit to enable repairs and conversions to carried out by civilians on lanterns that became available outside military use. The original aim was to produce a standard lantern that could be field serviced with a standard parts kit. Design work was also carried out on an inverted lantern, and this design still lives on in the KampLite and Thermos inverted lanterns, sought after by collectors everywhere. It seems AGM were the only company to make a commercial success of this design, and while examples of inverted lanterns by the other three are extremely rare, those by AGM and Thermos are relatively common.
Not all AGM products were lighting and cooking appliances. They also manufactured an early washing machine, and one quirky little book was published by AGM in 1949, as a promotional aid to the KampKook stove. Called "Favorite Recipes of Famous Outdoorsmen" it gave instructions for delicacies such as beaver tail soup, braised muskrat, cold-jellied Blue Channel catfish, and starlings on toast, all prepared in the camp site.
During the 1960s, lanterns and stoves continued to be manufactured by the KST plant in Macomb, Illinois, and a 1964 catalogue lists four lanterns as current, but many more in the spares lists. At this time Thermos manufactured for Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Western Auto. Others also used badged Thermos products, for example Bellknap and TruTest
For the AGM and Queen Products division, there were KL-2, 21A, LRL-21A, 21B and 22, LRL-4, 41A, 41B and 42, IL-1, IL-11A, IL-11B and IL-12, RL-2, 3, 21, 31, 32A, 32B 32C and 33, 2572, 3016, 3927A. For the Thermos division, there were lanterns 8311 (same as Sears Roebuck 710.74560 and Montgomery Ward 60-9535) , 8312 (same as Sears Roebuck 710.74561, Montgomery Ward 60-9520 and 60-9420, and Western Auto 8GC5595), 8315, 8316, 8325 (Sears Roebuck 710.74570, Montgomery Wards 60-9536) and 8326 (Sears Roebuck 710.74571, Montgomery Wards 60-9521 and 60-9421 and Western Auto 8GC5597), and inverted lanterns 8319 and 8321. The lanterns made for the catalogue houses were identical to the Thermos models, except for colour, and spares were colour coded according to the parent lantern.
There are actually only four basic Thermos models. The original designs, 8311, 8315, 8319, and 8325 all had fuel tanks with two openings - one for filling and one for the pump. The later models 8312, 8316, 8321 and 8326 all had a single opening, and to fill the tank it was necessary to remove the pump.
Some Thermos lanterns were changed cosmetically for marketing
purposes, but it seems there were few manufacturing differences, for
example, some lanterns have a "Holiday" decal. Most Thermos
lanterns are blue but some are green. Early decals are red and say
"Thermos", 1962 and 1963 decals are red and say
"Holiday". In 1964, the decals changed back to Thermos, and
were coloured red and grey. There is sometimes a letter embossed in
the aluminium collar. M = 1963 and R = 1964.
Coleman Lite No 6, August 1983.
Pers Comm: Herb Ebendorf, Coleman Historian in Wichita.
Freeborn County Immigration Website at http://swa.albertlea.k12.mn.us
King Seeley service manuals, 1964
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