Petromax is a name which is known all over the world, and is associated with excellent reliability and quality.
The company Lampen-Fabrik Ehrich and Graetz OHG was set up in 1866 by the plumber Albert Graetz (1831 - 1901) and Emile Ehrich, who dealt with the sales and distribution side of the business for several years before leaving the company. Early designs were confined to wick burning lamps, and included the brand names Iris, Akaria and Matador. Albert Graetz's son Adolf was born around 1860, and Max a year later. By the 1880s, a workforce of around 100 was employed, and around 1890 the ailing founder gave over control of the company to his sons. By the end of the century, they employed over a thousand workers, and had moved to larger premises in Treptow on the outskirts of Berlin. Among the many successful inventions designed by Max Graetz, the Graetzin light began a long series of coal gas fueled lamps that used an incandescent mantle. These were fixed lights, and Max quickly turned his attention to the production of a portable lantern, and the first lantern operating with kerosene as fuel was developed around 1910. The Petromax lamp was developed for the first time in 1911 as a tablelamp working on the pressure of the weight of the fuel itself, but that lamp was a failure and they withdrew the patent. The STUGA-CABAÑA website recounts how Max had already been given the nickname "Petrol Max" by his friends, and how the musician Paul Lincke suggested the name PetroMax for the new lantern. The name was registered as a trademark in 1920, and little did anyone realize that the name would still be known right around the world nearly ninety years later!
The result of the continued design work was a powerful and reliable lantern operating on pressurised kerosene, and by 1917 a well developed range of products existed, including wick lamps, heaters, pressure stoves and a series of do-nut pressure lamps for petroleum and methylated spirit, or alcohol. The brand name Petromax continued to be used for the lantern, which was followed by other types of kerosene and petrol lamps. At the end of the 1920s, Diamco of Berlin were making mantles carrying the Petromax brand name.
In May 1922, the "Ehrich und Graetz AG" name was registered. By now, Max was the driving force, along with his sons Erich, Fritz, Hans, and Rudolf. After a very difficult period following the end of WW1, the company only survived by producing quality products for export, and with ten years the name was become known around the world.
In 1921 they were granted a patent on the Petromax table-pressure lamp, first of a long line of table lamps, then in 1926 for the first time, and again in 1927, we see the co-operation between Ehrich & Graetz, Hugo Schneider AG, J.Hirschhorn and Continental Licht und Apparatebaugesellschaft to further developing pressure lamps. It was likely that E&G (Petromax) acquired an interest in Hirschhorn (Aida) in 1928, and so started another long relationship. In 1937 Max Graetz took out his last patent, for a new type of Petromax vaporizer, but sadly he died a short time before the patent was granted.
Some time after 1941 (probably in 1943) Ehrich and Graetz AG became just Graetz AG, as Emile Ehrich had long since departed. At this time the logo changed slightly, the EG combination was replaced by just G. Have a look at your own lanterns to see if you have pre 1943 with the G encircling the E. Be careful, though, because this may not be a definitive method of dating. It is known that the E&G combination logo has appeared on some products that also bear the words "Made in West Germany" and therefore date from after WW2. It is not clear whether this is just a relic in the manufacturing process, or a deliberate attempt to preserve the original name beyond it's lifetime.
During this period, with some uncertainty due to the difficult times of the war, Graetz AG acquired full control of Jacob Hirschhorn AG, makers of the AIDA lantern with whom Max Graetz had had long association. AIDA lanterns of this period are technically almost identical with the Petromax, and also bear the name "Rapid" on the versions with the pressure pre-heater, a name registered to Ehrich & Graetz in 1936. At this time the tempest of war was beginning to chill Europe, and just as in so many other German Industrial companies, the demand for workers led to the introduction of forced labour, and Ehrich & Graetz became another of the names hated by foreign workers in Germany, and in particular by the Jewish population, from where the majority of wartime labour would be drawn. The Jewish Museum in Berlin has produced an excellent book recounting the stories of captive workers, and currently has an exhibition on display. See the details at http://www.jmberlin.de/tp20522.htm.
During the 1930s, a range of Petromax lanterns were marketed in Britain by Aladdin, and by Falks Stadelmann, but as European relationships deteriorated before WW2, Aladdin switched to Vapalux, a lantern made in Halifax UK, by Willis and Bates. It is widely reported that Petromax lanterns were used by the German Military in WW2, and while this is possible, the German wartime ordnance codes lists do not appear to support this suggestion.
This lamp is the Model 835, and what a superb piece of engineering it is. The build quality is excellent, and there is a robustness not found in similar lamps of the period. Note the pump, which extends through the whole diameter of the donut tank, the quality of brasswork, and the size of the solid brass gas valve. The picture shows the lamp without its glass.
This is a 1938 Model 826 which spent at least part of its life in Egypt. I bought it still in its original box, with toolkit, spare needles and jets, and spare mantles which originated from a store in Cairo. The lamp lit at the first try, with no leaks, no smoke, and with a clear bright light.
At the end of WW2, the Soviet expropriation of any industry of worth saw the production plant in East Berlin placed in the hands of unskilled managers, with less than 50 workers producing the old Petromax lantern. Production in East Germany had ceased by around 1950. Soon after the end of the war, Ehrich and Fritz Graetz set up a new company with the name Graetz KG, and quite remarkably, the production of Petromax lanterns again soared to the hundreds of thousands, with many going to the German Armed Forces, now part of NATO, but most going overseas as export products. Graetz KG acquired the surviving but relic Graetz AG name from the holding company in Hamborg, and also totally absorbed what remained of the AIDA company. Through successive changes or ownership, the old lantern designs continued to be made at the Altena factory until sometime in the 1970s. Lanterns made then were distributed by the Heinze company in Wuppertal, Germany, who had become involved in 1959 with the production of spare parts, and who in 1971 had manufactured pressure lamps using the brand name Geniol.
Today, Petromax is the registered trade mark of Schott-Glaswerke, Mainz, Germany, and the only authorized manufacturer is Santromax Ltd, of Beijing and Hong Kong. This company also make Santrax brand lanterns, and produce lanterns for customers with "own badge" brand names. The official liaison for private "Petromax" and "Geniol" customers of the Heinze company is STUGA-CABAÑA in Dortmund.
There are many extremely dubious claims made by suppliers of the Petromax lanterns today regarding the ability to use any fuel. It is true that early Petromax lamps and lanterns were designed to run on almost any gasoline or hydrocarbon fuel, but different jets and generators were used, depending upon the fuel available. In modern lanterns the use of fuels such as Citronella oil or Diesel might be possible, but they will seriously shorten the life of the burner components, and might even be dangerous. Viscosity and chemical content vary greatly with different fuels, so good advice would be to stick to regular gasoline, white gas, or shellite for lanterns designed for gas (with a positive shut off valve), and kerosene in lanterns designed for kerosene or paraffin.
Other names frequently associated with Petromax are Aida and Geniol. Aida was the trademark of the German company AIDA Gesellschaft fur Beleuchtung und Heizung. The names Aida and Petromax, with pictures of their products, appeared together in advertisements during the 1930s, and it is well known that there was link between the two. Products bearing joint names are rare, but Steve Cole of Washington found a lamp in Miami which had both the Petromax and Aida name marked on the fount, and around the same time Anton Kaim in Rotterdam found references to both names in the German Trade Marks register for the period. The name AIDA belonged to AIDA Gesellschaft fur Beleuchtung und Heizung, who in January 1943 were based at Berlin SO 36, Elsenstrasse 87/88, while Graetz Aktiengesellschaft, owners of the Petromax name were at Berlin SO 36, Elsenstrasse 87/96 in May 1943. So we know that they shared the same address, and in the same year that Ehrich disappeared from Ehrich and Graetz! Mike Blanchard of Houma, Louisiana tells me that AIDA, (originally DIDA) became Geniol in the early 1970s, and that this very high quality product is still available today. Geniol parts will fit many of the old Aida and Petromax lamps.
The information on this page was kindly supplied by Anton Kaim of Rotterdam, Steve Cole of Washington, Mike Blanchard of Louisiana, and by Christof Heinze of :
Heinze GmbH & Co
Produktions und Vertriebs KG
Postfach 13 13 14
D-42040 Wuppertal, Germany
Tel ++49-202-242 57-0
Fax ++49-202-242 57-12
Heinze also own the trademark Geniol.
Thanks also to STUGA-CABAÑA for the best ever website dealing with Petromax. This is an essential site!
I am often asked for sources of spare parts for Petromax lanterns. Please see the Spares page for suggestions
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