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Something enclosing a light, and protecting it from wind, rain, &c.; – sometimes portable, as a closed vessel or case or horn, perforated tin, glass, oiled paper, or other material, having a lamp or candle within; – sometimes fixed, as the glazed enclosure of a street-light, or of a light-house light. — Webster, 1882

When you are out riding these cold days try the effect of a lighted lantern under the laprobes. It will keep you warm and comfortable at small trouble. – Kingsbury County Independent, February 1893

In the Little House books, the distinction made between a lantern and a lamp seems to be that a lantern was portable and often carried from place to place, and a lamp stayed put, sitting on a table or hanging on a wall or from the ceiling.

Tin Lantern. A lit candle inside a punched tin lantern is used for portable lighting in Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, and Little House on the Prairie. Note that in Big Woods, the Ingalls family also has a kerosene lamp, but it does not appear in Little House on the Prairie; only candles are used.

A punched tin lantern can be made at home, but it is not a job for a beginner. Look online or at your library for instructions. A simple tin candle holder is fairly easy – basic supplies include a permanent marker, tin can, a nail with a large head, and a hammer, plus a surface to hammer on. You’ll also need water and your kitchen freezer. Wash carefully and dry a metal soup or vegetable can. Using the marker, draw a pattern of dots on the outside of the can, being careful not to make the dots too close together. The dots may be in lines, circles, or just random dots. Now fill your can with water, up to about a half inch from the rim. Freeze. Now you can lay the can on its side on a board (a towel will keep the can from rolling), and while it’s frozen, hammer the nail into the can a tiny bit at each hole, then pull out the nail. You can use nails of different sizes, or a screwdriver to make tiny slits. Work quickly as the ice will start to melt; once all the holes are punched through the can, turn upside down and allow the ice to melt. Dry the inside carefully; the punched tin will be sharp! Add a small votive candle or a battery-powered candle to the can, turn out the lights, and enjoy! You can see the finished product HERE.

Kerosene Lantern. Kerosene lanterns were still fairly new when Laura Ingalls Wilder was born. Kerosene was first made by distilling coal oil in 1846, and a wick in kerosene burned with a bright yellow light. It wasn’t until it was found that kerosene could be extracted from petroleum that kerosene became affordable, and lamps and lanterns were widely used. All kerosene lanterns had a bottom storage container for the kerosene, a wick, and a glass chimney or globe to protect the flame. A handle made them portable for carrying or hanging. Kerosene lanterns are still used today, especially for emergency lighting or camping.

The lanterns shown here are on display in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin, Wisconsin.


lantern (BW 6, 8; FB 2; LHP 1, 20, 26; BPC 16, 21; SSL 7, 15, 27; TLW 9, 27, 29; LTP 18-19, 23-24; THGY 8; PG)
     lantern light / lantern-light / lanternlight (BW 5; FB 19-20; LTP 18, 23-24)
     tin (BW 6; FB 2; LHP 20, 26; TLW 2)