Another newbie question here - what is the purpose of cowl lights? Do they markedly assist the driver's vision, supplementing the headlights, or are they mainly to help others see the car?
Was there a practical reason (other than cost) that starter equipped cars did not come with cowl lights? Is it that it was felt they weren't needed with the electric headlights?
Parking lights. You didn't want to leave your gas headlamps burning for an extended period when sitting, but with the starter cars came electric headlamps so the sidelamps weren't needed on those cars.
It is my belief that cowl lights were the original "parking lights" and the purpose was to show where a car was (tail light also) so the horse and buggy wouldn't run into them on a street that had no lamps. I don't think they were intended for driving illumination but just as markers as they don't really help. I think they just stayed as standard equipment a little past their time because the population at that time used kerosene lamps in the home and it was a comfort.
That has always been my thesis but I may be wrong....
A dumb related question: I've never understood the concept of "parking lights". If the car is parked why does it need lights? In fact, to carry it a step further, here in Califunny as I recall, it is illegal to drive with just your parking lights on. So, why are they switched like they are? Under what circumstances would you want just your "parking" lights on? I don't think of them as parking lights at all, but rather as running lights to be used with the headlights as part of a complete lighting system when operating in the dark, rain or fog.
We were typing at the same time, Tim Your explanation, whether accurate or not, does make some sense. Thanks!
On the Ford there were electric lights used before there were starters being used, but still they were supplied with the side lights. Perhaps it was because of the magneto lights that were prone to burning out?
They were never meant to be driving lights, they were just like marker lights on trucks and or parking lights. Some places required you to have some sort of lights on after dark when parked on the street. Places that required parking lights after the advent of the starter and passing of the cowl lights you would have had small electric fender lights. I think that the parking light laws were a carry over from the buggy era in bigger towns and city's. Before the starter and battery came the cars still had cowl lights so that on coming traffic could still see you in the dark.
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Mine too a little longer to post as I had to re-size my photos.
Thankyou everyone for your answers! This got me thinking some more, didn't passive reflectors exist back then, or was that a later technology?
Maybe Jay could dig through his mountain of period Model T accessories to show some period reflectors, if such thing existed?
Standard Oil gave away free lamps with the purchase of enough kerosene. The idea was to sell fuel, not lamps.
Mr.Rockefeller persuaded Henry to install oil-burning parking lights on the Model T so he could sell a lot of kerosene.
You saw it on the internet, so it must be true.
I only had one lamp lit as I only have one wick!
a 3ed one is on order. To add, the cowl lamp stayed lit at over 35 MPH.
Rob Heyen has pictures of his Model N on another thread and that car has bail handles on it's side lamps, this makes me wonder if those lamps were used as an early flashlight as it were. When you arrived at your destination you simply lifted the lamp off the car and walked to the door and the lamp lit your way. The black lamps that we know now as the most common lamps, are simply an updated version of those bail handled brass lamps. JMHO
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I am always surprised that people do not know what parking lights are for. When you see a car stopped on the side of the road at night, it should only have its parking lamps on so other drivers can see it, but not the head lights, as those can blind the driver of the moving car, especially if the driver of the stopped car is outside changing a flat tire. On the other side of the coin, do not expect oncoming traffic to yield to you if you are moving with park lights only on, as you are signaling them that you are stationary.
Model A's with no cowl lights had two bulb headlights. The second bulb was only 2 candellas or so and not much drain on the battery. This acted as your parking lights. I'm thinking electric start T's were the same. Cars with magneto headlights still needed cowl lights for when the engine wasn't running.
I don't know the actual reason for the lights but they do give the other driver a sense of the location of your car. If you drive with them and the headlights on, and a headlight burns out, at least the other driver can see you and determine that you are not a motorcycle. They also give some slight illumination under the hood in case you need to do some unexpected tinkering at night.
"front position lamps" also known as parking lights: made for use when parked on a narrow street to show the cars position. Made to draw very little current with the engine off (and I guess kero). That's as close to an explaination as I could find.
In towns i see trucks parked on the roadside with LED lights going full time so cars are less likely to crash into them. i sense folks of older times would have kept the T cowl lamps even after they had a newer car like a model A so they could navigate from the house to the outhouse at night.
A model T with mag lights was almost invisible when stopped at a stop sign or signal light with the motor at idle.
The cowl lights and tail light were simply to mark the car so it did not get rammed.
Cars with battery ignition had good enough lights at a standstill so the kerosene cowl lights, and tail light, were not needed.
Put your self on a country gravel road with no shoulder and pitch dark with no head lights. Early non-electrics has series wired, lights if one went out they both went out. When very dark the oil lamps will illuminate the non-shoulder road area and keep you from driving off in to the darkness. A kerosene side lamp with a good reflector will offer at least 5cp for 10-15 feet just enough to keep you out of trouble. Test one in a dark room and see for your self, they work pretty good Dave
Model T enthusiasts have always debated the reason why, when he decided to make his car available in only one color, Mr. Ford chose black. Iíve heard baloney about how black paint dried faster and was more durable, but I think, more likely it was simply cheaperóand in a Victorian age of starched collars and rigid social expectations, was a more versatile choice in that it wouldnít discourage purchase by dignified professionals like doctors, undertakers, lawyers, and ministers. This was, after all, an age when no respectable school teacher would dare wear a red dress. But itís all speculation and nobody really knows for sure.
Same deal with the cowl lanterns. Nobody really knows for sure why they were there, but itís fun to speculate. On the very earliest Model T Fords, headlamps were a separate option, so in some cases, the oil/kerosene lamps were the only illumination. As the side lamps were deleted on cars with electric headlights, Iím of the belief that in the case of a gas-lit car, the time-consuming necessity of cleaning out the carbide generator after each use made acetylene lighting impractical for short trips. For those little jaunts, the cowl lanterns might have been thought to be more versatile, if not as bright.
And, of course, horse-drawn carriages of the day were typically equipped with sizable oil lamps, so the carryover to carriages of the horseless variety was probably a natural progression.
Kero lamps on a horse-drawn carriage, on a stage coach, or on a locomotive were mounted far too high to give any useful illumination to the road ahead. Probably all right at walking pace, but not much use at galloping speed. They did however, provide the population at large a warning that the vehicle was approaching.
In my youth, I used a kero lamp designed for the purpose, on my bicycle. It was mounted low on the front forks and was of some use provided that I kept my speed low.
Many cars of pre 1900, and immediately post 1900, were equipped only with kerosene lamps, and once again, it showed the car up for other road users, but they were not an ideal illumination for the driver.
Certainly oil or kero side-lamps were used as parking lamps. In some cities and towns, where there was adequate (for the time) street lighting, one was not supposed to use one's gas (or electric) headlamps, but only the side-lamps.
I had an uncle who drove buses in London before the Great War. His eyesight was badly affected by the gas lights of oncoming traffic. One must remember that the difference in brightness between gas lights and kero lights was huge, and at the time the constant change of oncoming illumination could well affect eyesight.
Gradually ideas changed, until eventually the side-lamps became merely parking lamps.
It is interesting to note though, that in some places, extra mudguard-mounted (fender-mounted) small lamps were required for parked cars- there have been a few photos with them on this Forum.
In the Nov./Dec. Horseless Carriage Gazette there is a very en-lightening reprint of an article written by the auto collector Art Twohy back in the late 1920's. It is an amusing story about the "life" of his 1907 Buick, written from the car's perspective. In the article, the Buick states "Besides all this brass work, there are two oil side-lamps in case of emergency. My owner would leave them burning when I stood along the side of the road." So most certainly, the carriage lamps were used as warning markers for other drivers of early automobiles or carriages.
Our Model N sidelamps were bale handled (as were most 1906 and prior). I assume (uh oh) the handle was so one could take one, or both off, and use to light your way into the house, garage, etc. Don't know if that was the case, but I didn't think it was just decorative (the handle).
Reference color, I think most cars prior to 1910 were a variety of bright colors. Unless tastes changed, I doubt black was a preferred color by the time Ford switched to all black, however it's just a guess.
This 1907 car reference guide lists several models and makes and color (far right column). It would be interesting to know what the most popular "optional" color chosen was.
The purpose of side lights on a vehicle is for that name, to mark the sides of the vehicle on a roadway, so that on-coming vehicles can see where the edge or side of your vehicle is.
Then later side lights became cowl lamps, name changing as body changes in auto vs. carriages.
By 1920s' (ref. Dykes, p431) side lamps were seldom used, as headlamps had as small 5 or 6cp or so bulb, to be used a 'dimmer' for city driving or for parking.
Most states required such lighting, and some sort of a alarm too, horn or bell or something for the ears, and well as the lights for the eyes.
Then some places required parking lamps, usually you could burn a kerosene lamp, but when the dry cell battery, and later the acid-storage battery were used, then an electric lamp, usually on one fender was used for parking at night. That for the same reason, to show where your rear fender was for traffic coming up to you.
Later in the '20's stop lamps came about for safety, and then dual lamps on both sides, and dual purpose too, stop, parking, and then later turn signal indicators. Modern vehicles, side lamps too, remember the early 70's with the little lamps on the fenders, front and rear?
So today our cars have lamps all over, or at least lamps that spill light to the side, and daytime running lights with some mfg too.
And, be sure to check you local state laws for what lighting, reflectors, turn indication, rear view mirrors, windshield glass requirement are to stay legal and safe.
My 46 Dodge truck still had cowl/parking lights.
That's a nice looking Rayo Lamp up there. Yes, if you bought 5 gallons of Kerosene, they would give you that lamp....they just didn't tell you that the Rayo was considered a gas hog!
I had mine lit a few days ago along with my aladdin lamps when the power was off when we had all the snow.
During the days of the horse and buggy, when roads were barely wide enough for one buggy, buggies seldom travelled at night unless there was a full moon or it was an emergency. When they did, it was important to know whether the buggy up ahead was coming or going. Buggy lights were less for seeing and more for allowing others to see you. Cowl lights would let the oncoming buggy know that a buggy was up ahead ahead and approaching. Tail lights were not usually used since buggies travelling at night usually traveled at a snails pace and a buggy up ahead could be heard, if not seen. and traveling so slow, there was plenty of time to deal with it.
When automobiles came on the scene, they more or less, adopted the same rules for the road as the horse drawn carriages. The earlier ones had just the cowl lights which were more for the benefit of the approaching driver than for allowing the driver to see up ahead, so the early car seldom drove at night. As the cars got faster, technology for wind proof headlights improved and headlights were mounted on cars allowing the driver to see a fair distance ahead, so more night time driving could be done. Night time driving at higher speeds, required a tail light, which was not red, but also white like the headlight. As with the cowl lights on buggies, the automobile cowl light helped the approaching driver to be able to determine whether the car was coming or going, since the headlights were low to the ground just like the tail lights, so the cowl lights served the same purpose as they did on buggies. Being higher up on the cowl, the approaching driver could tell whether the vehicle ahead was approaching if he could see the cowl lights above the headlights. When red tail lights were universally adopted, cowl lights no longer served a purpose, became obsolete and were eliminated. Jim Patrick
Many buggy and early cowl side lights had red jewels in the back that were meant to be seen from the rear.
Automotive engineers are usually slow to change with the times. It was a major transition to change over to motorized travel from horses. The firewall went through several references it was originally there to stop you from getting pooped on, it was along time before it was referred to as a FIRE WALL. Many early cars, British included came with a crank in the trunk/boot and after a considerable time the crank was discontinued, however the hole and cog on the crank shaft continued. After some greater time the cog on the crank was discontinued, however the hole under the rad continued, after several more years the hole eventually disappeared. Many models of cars had left hand threads on wheel nuts on the left side and right on the right side this was a horse and buggy mentality that was carried over in to the mid 50s. Today horses still have right-of-way over automobiles and if your automobile spooks the horses you are required to stop and dismantle. I think this means remove from the road, in some areas this still applies today.
I imagine a Rayo Driving Lamp such as this "pat. 1911" model might have been used on a buggy or automobile.