I returned home recently to find a surprise parcel from my friend, Richard Friedman, waiting for me. Nestled inside, in its original packaging, was a remarkable pipe lighter – a Beattie Jet Lighter.
Even now - some fifty years later – the fascination with the Beattie Jet Lighter is palpable. As I searched high and low for information on this futuristic product, I found a bevy of YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and eBay listings for the Beattie. In every case, people extolled their affection and fascination for the lighter, calling it their “favorite new gadget.”
What was perhaps more surprising was the absolute lack of facts or information about the product, its inventors, or marketers. I wound up making telephone calls to archivists and assisted living centers trying to find people who could tell me the Beattie Jet Lighter story, or the story of its Adirondack summer-camp owner-namesakes.
Here we have a remarkable product that spent approximately only 15 years on the market, yet it is admired and loved by everyone who knows about it. Yet, ironically, the Beattie story is shrouded in mystery. It’s been fun uncovering the knowable traces.
Beattie Jet Lighters were made from the mid-1940s until 1961. Both now and in their day they were immensely popular due to their ingenious method of producing a two- to three-inch horizontal flame upon tipping the lighter. Pipe smokers found the lighter an ideal solution for lighting a pipe because the flame would not burn their hand and was easily directed into the bowl chamber.
Although the lighter produces a flame similar in appearance to a butane lighter when tipped, the Beattie Jet is a fluid lighter. The Beattie uses a jet pressurization principle to shoot out the flame.
When the lighter is not tipped, it produces a Zippo-like flame suitable for lighting cigars or cigarettes.
As you will see from the patent drawings at right, the Beattie has a double-wick system. A traditional wick rises in a tube proximal to the lighter’s striking wheel. With the Beattie, a second wick runs through the cotton-packed wicking reservoir into the jet tube that curls up through the lighter top and protrudes toward the traditional wick.
A tiny orifice - smaller in diameter than a fine hair - is at the end of the tube. When the lighter is tipped, the traditional wick flame heats the tube, vaporizing and pressurizing the fluid that has wicked up through the tube. The vapor is forced out the tiny orifice and is ignited by the flame at the traditional wick.
Although the Beattie is a fluid lighter, the flame is surprisingly hot and will ignite tobacco in no time. When one initially tips the lighter, the flame rockets forth from the orifice with gusto. Thus, it is important to let the jet settle down from its initial ignition lest one scorch the bowl rim.
The jet lighter was first invented by London-based Guy S. Barker in 1929. He filed his U.S. Patent on November 5th, 1930 and was granted his patent on January 17th, 1933. Inventor William E. Evans, who worked for the Waterbury Lock and Specialty Company of Milford Connecticut, created a refined design based on Barker’s original work. Evans filed his patent on August 25, 1939 and was granted a patent on May 20, 1941. Yet a third jet lighter design was created by Francis Leslie Phillips who received his patent approval on December 30, 1947. Phillips design is almost an exact duplicate of Evans’ earlier design.
It is possible to differentiate earlier Beattie Jet lighters from later versions by both the patent number(s) listed on the lighter and by the typography engraved onto the lighters’ bottoms. Earlier lighters list Guy Barker’s patent number: 1894300.
Later versions list both the Evans patent number (2242906) and the Phillips patent number (2433707). Oddly, some Phillips-designed lighters with a reservoir fill screw on the bottom list the Barker patent number and not the Phillips number.
Sometime prior to 1944, the patent rights to manufacture the Beattie Jet lighter were acquired by Robert W. Beattie of Brooklyn New York. Beattie, who grew up in Upstate New York in the Long Lake area attended the Manual Training High School, an engineering and technical school where he developed an appreciation for ingenuity in invention. Though the Beatties lived in Brooklyn where they operated a pre-school, Beattie and his wife, Elvira, owned and operated a summer camp – Camp Beattie - located on the west shore of Long Lake. The camp is no longer in operation; it has become a private residence.
Why Robert Beattie - a camp owner and pre-school operator decided to go into the pipe lighter business is one of those mysteries I am still investigating.
The Beattie Jet Lighter was produced in nickel plate, chrome plate, engine-turned chrome, heavy silver plate, heavy gold plate, and in solid sterling silver. One could buy them encased in lizard, morocco, and pig skin leathers. Prices ranged from $6.95 to $49.00 for the solid sterling models. A desk model in either morocco or pigskin was sold for $11.95.
One can almost divine the inventors’ origins from marketing messages on the lighter’s box-packaging and in advertisements for the lighter.
“Ideal also for:
- Thawing out frozen car locks,
- Blackening gunsights,
- Lighting campfires and fireplaces,
- Doing small soldering jobs.”
Now, fifty years after Beattie ceased production and sales, these lighters still work - and work very well. They are a wonderful vestige of their time. They are also a pipe-smoker’s friend when used carefully!
My friend Richard has been quietly assembling a collection of Beattie Jets recently. My lighter came from among their ranks. Here you see a picture of his wide-ranging if small collection.