Our Museum Feature this month is a delightful “Hopalong Cassidy” nightlight produced by Aladdin Industries. Crafted in an opalescent glass called “Alacite,” this figural electric nightlight is shaped like a pistol in a holster, and is adorned with the likeness of the famous cowboy hero, Hopalong Cassidy. This nightlight is one of a series of four different Hopalong Cassidy lamps produced by Aladdin, a diverse company best known for its seemingly disparate innovations in kerosene lamp technology and lunchboxes!
The Hopalong Cassidy cowboy character was created by author Clarence Mulford in 1904, but popularized decades later in film by actor William Boyd, who ultimately appeared in sixty-six Hopalong Cassidy films. In 1944, Boyd bought the rights to the Hopalong Cassidy name and movie backlog, and moved the franchise to television in 1948, making it the first Western series to appear on broadcast network TV. The series was a huge success, and Boyd soon became wealthy from merchandise and licensing deals, with Hopalong Cassidy appearing on a tremendous variety of items from binoculars to bicycles to watches to cookie jars to roller skates. In 1950, Hopalong Cassidy was the first character to appear on a lunchbox – a lunchbox produced by Aladdin Industries.
Aladdin Industries got its start in 1905, when Victor Samuel Johnson, inspired by the better light he saw being produced by the German kerosene mantle burner, formed the Western Lighting Company in Minneapolis, MN. In 1908, Johnson moved the company to Chicago, and renamed it the Mantle Lamp Company of America. In 1909, Johnson started making the “Aladdin” brand lamp, which combined a “Practicus” incandescent burner imported from Germany with an American-made lamp body. The Aladdin lamp was described in 1930s advertising material as “one of the greatest and most practical inventions of the century... it has gone a long, long way toward solving the lighting problem for rural homes, with its abundance of soft, mellow, modern, white light.” The Aladdin lamp was a success, effectively making conventional kerosene lamps obsolete. The Mantle Lamp Company patented its own mantle design in 1911, and, based on this design, earned both a blue ribbon and a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.
Seeking to innovate and diversify, Johnson created a subsidiary of the Mantle Lamp Company, Aladdin Industries, in 1919, to produce thermoses and other temperature-retaining products based on vacuum technology. The expanding Mantle Lamp Company purchased Lippincott Glass in 1926, a move which enabled the company to produce their own lamps (chimneys, lampshades, bases, etc) instead of just applying their name to blanks supplied by other companies. Diversifying even more, Aladdin began making electric lamps in 1930, many of which were crafted in stylish Art Deco designs.
In 1938, “Alacite” glass was created by Henry Hellmers, who was superintendent of the Mantle Lamp Company’s glasshouse. Hellmers created most of the colored glass for the company during the 1930s and 1940s, and also created a variety of glass types for Heisey, Cambridge, and others. Described by Hellmers as “an ivory opal glass,” Alacite became a very popular medium for the company’s products (the most popular kerosene lamp produced by the company was the tall “Lincoln Drape” lamp in Alacite).
When Victor Samuel Johnson died in 1943, his son, V. S. Johnson, Jr. took over the Mantle Lamp Company. In 1949, the new owner moved the company from Chicago to Nashville and merged the company with its subsidiary, Aladdin Industries, feeling the Aladdin name had become more representative of the company’s now-diversified product line. In 1950, Aladdin started making school lunchbox kits, and was the first company to apply a character, Hopalong Cassidy, to a lunchbox. This move proved to be a smart one, as lunchbox sales exploded from 50,000 to 600,000 in just a year’s time, and Aladdin went on to dominate the lunchbox market in the U.S for decades. Faced with increasing competition, the company discontinued its line of electric lamps in 1956. In 1965, the company acquired the Universal Stanley Division of the J. B. Williams company, which made the Stanley thermos bottle. In 1999, the struggling lamp division of Aladdin was purchased by a group of investors and renamed the Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company. The Aladdin brand was acquired by Pacific Market International in 2002.
Although the Aladdin “Hopalong Cassidy” nightlight in our museum is not for sale, we have a number of patterns from American glass manufacturers like Tiffin/Franciscan, Heisey, Duncan & Miller, and Viking, that may be purchased, along with patterns from a wide array of other glassware producers. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you'll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 13 million individual pieces in more than 425,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!