The History of the Betty Lamp

The Betty Lamp, symbol of AAFCS, recalls those pioneers who in their quest for new horizons of the mind still cherished all that time had tested and found good.

In search of a logo in 1926, the American Home Economics Association (now known as the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences) sponsored a national design contest among leading art schools. The winning design, chosen from sixty submitted, was the Betty Lamp. Mildred Chamberlain of
Chicago won the contest stating, The lamp in colonial days had provided light for all household industries.? The following information explains its origin.

Ancient lamps were simple dishes made of clay. With the passing of centuries, they were made of iron copper and bronze. These lamps burned grease, fish oil, whale oil, or scraps of fat, depending on what might be on hand. The wicks of early lamps were usually pieces of twisted cloth. When the lamps were lighted, they smoked, smelled, and dripped oil or grease on objects beneath them. Early lamps had wicks that usually drew up oil quicker than it burned, and the surplus spilled over the sides of the lamp.

The Betty, from the German word "besser," meaning better, was designed to improve the performance of the lamps by creating a wicker holder in the base of the lamp. The design allowed the drippings from the wick to run back into the bowl and eventually consumed. A cover was added to the lamp which further improved it by confining heat, decreasing smoke, and making the oil burn more efficiently.


The betty Lamp produced comparatively good light for its time. The light varied with the size and material of the wick, and the oil or grease used in the lamp. Fish oil gave the poorest light and was Smoky; grease and fats were somewhat better. Whale oil, usually available in coastal towns, produced more satisfactory light, about equal to that of two ordinary candles.

Various forms of the Betty Lamp existed. The most popular were made of metal, had rounded or oval sides, and a shallow bottom with the spout at one end where the tip of an oil soaked wick could protrude. A bent rod was attached to the lamp which could be hooked to a rafter, a peg on the mantel, or the back of a chair. A pick, for rescuing the wick in case it dropped into the oil was frequently attached to the lamp with a chain.

The Betty Lamp was used widely by the early American colonists and many of the earliest lamps were imported from
Europe. Upon discovery of a deposit of bog iron in 1890 within the town of Saugus, Massachusetts, American manufacturing of iron utensils, such as kettles and tools was initiated. More than likely, the first Betty Lamps were made at this forge.

The Ipswich Betty, named from the settlement in
Massachusetts where it was made, followed the form of the iron Betty. The Ipswich Betty, made of tine around 1800, is a hand-held lamp rather than a hanging lamp. This modification was the result of attaching the Betty Lamp to a candle stand, a form of lamp that continued to be used in this country until about 1850, when it was replaced by the kerosene tubular wick lamp, still used as an ornament. From the late Middle Ages to the 1850s America, the Betty Lamp was the most commonly used house lamp, illuminating the country. Representing the light in the home and the light of the mind, the Betty Lamp is an appropriate logo for AHEA (AAFCS) and home economists.

This article was written by Dr. Ruth Klein Shelton
Printed in the Journal of Home Economics, Fall 1983.

The Betty Lamp was chosen for the logo of the American Home Economics Association as the result of a contest in 1926. The Betty Lamp continued as the logo of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) after the name change in 1994.

In colonial days, the Betty Lamp provided light for all household industries. Representing the light in the home and the light of the mind, the Betty Lamp is an appropriate logo for AAFCS and all the associated disciplines.

Early in the 20th century, the Betty Lamp was adopted as a "symbol of learning."

The beam of this Betty Lamp symbolizes the following:

The need of exact knowledge

The appreciation of beauty

The spirit of joy

The power of strength

The blessing of fellowship

The satisfaction of achievement

The value of service

The bond of cooperation


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