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Coleman celebrates 120 years


Next time you switch off the camping lantern and snuggle up in your cosy sleeping bag, spare a moment to thank a lonely typewriter salesman.

As he trudged through the slush on a freezing night in Alabama 120 years ago, family camping holidays would have been the last thing on William Coffin Coleman’s mind.

But without his vision – not to mention a touch of good fortune – the sort of kit we all take for granted today might never have seen the light of day.

It’s not going too far to say that the commercial traveller revolutionised camping and opened it up to millions of people around the world.


The story began as Mr Coleman was on the way to see one of his typewriter customers in the town of Blocton. Through the evening gloom he spotted a lamp in a shop giving off a bright white light unlike anything he’d ever seen.

He was so impressed he tracked down the inventors of the gas lantern and became a salesman for the firm.

Business took off and, within a couple of years, he purchased the patent for the Efficient Lamp and moved the business to Wichita, Kansas.

In 1913, the company’s name changed to the Coleman Lamp Company – and one of the best known outdoor leisure brands in the world was born.

It’s 120 years since Mr Coleman stumbled across that gas lamp in Alabama and a lot has changed. The Coleman company has moved on from producing lamps for residents of rural American communities and is now a global name in camping.

From the USA to the UK, Brazil to Bulgaria, Canada to Korea, Coleman’s distinctive red badge and famous lamp logo can be found on campsites around the world. 

And it’s not just lamps. These days, Coleman’s range of camping equipment includes tents, shelters, coolers, stoves, gas and more.

Throughout the company’s history, innovation has been key and after 120 years, there’s no sign of that changing.


By the 1920s, Coleman had started manufacturing camp stoves, cooking ranges and hot plates.

Coleman products – including the Gypsy stove – were designed to take advantage of the ‘autocamping’ craze that swept America in the early part of the century thanks to the availability of more affordable cars and shorter working weeks.

Those very early appliances evolved into the huge range of Coleman outdoor products we know and use today.

But it was during World War II, that Coleman really came to the fore, having converted much of its manufacturing to defence contracts and developing the GI Pocket Stove for soldiers.

The lightweight single-burner was designed to operate in extreme cold and hot temperatures and work with all kinds of fuel. It enabled soldiers to cook and make coffee while they were out in the field.


By the end of the war, a civilian version had been launched that helped cement Coleman’s reputation as a brand for leisure campers.

It was perfect for hunting, fishing, and the growing popularity of family camping.

The range expanded to include double-burner camp stoves and their popularity was boosted by radio and magazine endorsements from US TV stars like Lucille Ball.

In 1954, the Coleman Company revolutionised cooler manufacturing by adding a plastic liner and in the early 1960s it moved further into the camping market, with tents, sleeping bags and camping chairs being added to the range. By the 1980s it had established itself as a global brand, producing its 40 millionth gas lantern in 1986.


By the start of the 80s, Coleman had moved into the UK, with its wide range of family camping products proving hugely popular, helped by a magazine advertising campaign fronted by Blue Peter presenter, John Noakes.

The range included products like the Peak 1 stove, the Easy-Lite lantern, the Chieftan Warrior sleeping bag and the classic eight-litre Cooler. For £17.95 you could pick up a folding portable oven, which ran on gas, petrol or electricity.

Battery lighting followed later in the decade and family tents, camping furniture and accessories were added to the range during the 1990s.

Into the new millennium, and the developments kept coming, products like quick pitch and inflatable tents, and spacious event shelters proving hugely popular. Recent Coleman innovations have included the Battery Lock and Battery Guard technologies, which prolong the life of the batteries in torches and lanterns.

Possibly the most exciting Coleman invention in recent years was the BlackOut Bedroom – featuring special material that blocks out 99% of sunlight to leave your tent bedrooms in complete darkness even on the sunniest of mornings.

It’s all a far cry from that snowy night in Alabama 120 years ago.


WC Coleman develops lighting company in Oklahoma, USA

Coleman Gas Lanterns light up the first night football game played west of the Mississippi River in the USA

WC Coleman starts a table lighting business in Wichita, Kansas

Coleman develops a lightweight camp stove for soldiers in World War II

The Coleman Company revolutionises the ice chest by adding a plastic liner

Coleman launches its first tent, sleeping bags and chair products

Coleman Japan established

The 40 millionth Coleman lantern is produced

Coleman moves into the UK market for the first time

Coleman develops the 2002 Olympic torch

The Coleman Company becomes part of the Newell Brands portfolio

Coleman launches revolutionary BlackOut tent bedrooms in the UK

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13/04/2021 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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