Guth Lighting Company – National Register of Historic Places Listing


Edwin F. Guth, Sr., was born in St. Charles, Missouri in 1875. According to the 1906 and 1912 Book of St. Louisans, he began his business career in 1893 with the Interstate Electric Company. Nine years later, Guth and three associates (including his brother, Oscar) formed the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company in May of 1902; the company was incorporated in that year with a capital of $50,000. The company designed, engineered and manufactured electrical light innovations and lighting fixtures in addition to brass and bronze castings for hand rails, mantels, andirons and grates. At the time of incorporation, Edwin F. Guth, Sr., was treasurer, his brother Oscar was a salesman. Two associates, George S. Watts and Charles M. Wempner served as president and vice-president.4 Within eighteen months of incorporation, the firm’s assets were gone.

After 1903, Edwin, Sr, was president and Oscar was treasurer; Watts was listed as vice-president and Wempner as secretary.

Shortly before the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 St. Louis World’s Fair), Watts and Wempner lost interest in the company and Edwin, Sr., bought them out with assistance from his father, Frederick. Guth soon won a contract for 20,000 feet of polished brass hand rails for the Fair. In addition, Guth’s specially designed electric lights with hand-wrought light fixtures lit the Tyrolean Alps exhibit building at the Fair. This particular project of the Swiss government was daring in construction and lighting treatment for the time.

Apparently, the job was so successfully executed that it resulted in Guth securing a similar lighting contract at the Fair for an exhibit for the Brazilian government.

Due to the demands of the Fair and prospects of future business, Guth’s company was running to full capacity and soon outgrew its original manufacturing facility at 1112-1120 Market Street (demolished). In the 1906 Book of St. Louisans, Guth was credited with building up the largest chandelier business west of Chicago.

Elaboration: The Guth firm In 1907, Edwin’s father, Frederick, commissioned St. Louis architect John L. Wees to design a three and five-story factory, warehouse and salesroom at 2611 Washington Avenue (later changed to 2615) for the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company’s second and final home. Three years later, Guth began a fifty-two year career in electrical light and lighting fixtures in St. Louis with the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company “the largest manufacturer of lighting fixtures in the U.S.A.” (see figure 2)

In 1910, Edwin F. Guth, Sr., invented the first of over one-hundred influential lighting products that would influence the lighting industry forever the “Brascolite.” (figure 2) The decorative, yet functional Brascolite, introduced commercially in 1912 and patented in 1913, sold in the millions for the next eleven years.

The invention was an early semi indirect light combined with a glass bottom bowl; the unit was delivered ready to be wired onto the lighting circuit. It was the first such self-contained packaged unit in the St. Louis Commerce. (St. Louis: My 1959) v 33, p 22.
“Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” (St Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002).
‘ “Brascolite” lighting fixture. Patent #1,076,418. Oct 21,1913. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for 1913, p. 199. And U. S. Patent Office Gazette, v. 195, p. 685.

The Brascolite was so successful that it led to the formation of a subsidiary company, the Brascolite Company; the company was incorporated in 1914 with a capital of $2,000, Edwin F. Guth was listed as president. Also in 1914, Guth founded the Luminous Unit Company to handle electrical supplies; the company was incorporated in Missouri in 1914 with a capital of $2,000.’

Figure 2: From Gould’sSt. Louis Red-Blue Book (1921)
Phones OO41 111 1*1. Manufacturers
Kinloch, Central 1980 Vfin WjKhllWtfin iVP f ”
Bell, Bomont 3200 LUl\l II tlOMIHglUII HlC. “BRASCOUTE”
Largest Manufacturers of Lighting
Fixtures in the U. S. A.

We are also prepared for the following on a large scale: Deep Drawing and Stamping, Porcelain Enameling, Metal Spinning,
Polishing and Plating, Bronze Grills, Brass Rail and Machine Shop

Numerous lighting inventions continued up to 1912 when Guth and an internationally known local surgeon, Dr. Willard Bartlett, Sr., 10 invented the “Noshodolite” (also known as the Bartlett “Noshodolite”). This invention eliminated hand shadows during surgery by combining a series of eight reflectors giving 360 degrees of illumination. A 1921 Guth publication, Brascolite Bulletin for Hospitals, contained a list of 36 hospitals representing eighteen states and three countries that endorsed the Noshodolite’s medical superiority. Further, in 1929, the Noshodolite was advertised as “the most scientifically
designed fixture for the illumination of the surgical operative field that has ever been offered the medical profession.”

Both companies listed the same officers (per St Louis Brass Mfg. Co. incorporation) in the same positions except Charles M Wempner and George S. Watts were listed as VP and secretary respectively. “Missouri Historical Society Bulletin. July 1950, v. VI, TL 4, p. 556. Dr. Bartlett, Sr., (1868-1950) a founding member of the American College of Surgeons, past president of the Southern Surgical Association (1920) and vice-president of the American Medical Association (1922) was the first American to teach pathology at the University of Berlin. While in Benin, Dr. Bartlett, Sr., proved for the first time that cerebral hemorrhage was caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain (ironically it killed him). ” Guth, Edwin F. Co. “The New Noshadolite.” Catalogue # 24. Missouri Historical Society collection.

In 1923, the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company (merging with the Brascolite Company) changed its name to the Edwin F. Guth Company to honor the original founder and brilliant inventor, (figure 3) In that year Guth invented his “Guthlite,” a thin
blown glass globe used with a perforated enamel reflector for both upward and downward light. The invention of the “Guthfan,” followed in 1928. This patented Guthfan Conditionaire was considered the first real improvement in fan design and
principle since 1898 and the only fen that scientifically provided complete cooling, refreshing air circulation and good lighting in one complete unit. 12 The fan’s ability to draw cool air from the floor and circulate it throughout the room without disturbing hot upper air was then an entirely new principle. 13 Guth’s fan earned the first patent on a fan in thirty years and was a prototype of today’s ceiling fans. Hotels, architects, businesses, restaurants and hospitals from New York to Kansas City endorsed the superiority of the Guthfan well into the mid-1930s.

Figure 3: From Gould’s St. Louis Directory (1927)
Brascolite Aglite Gulhlite
lighting Equipment

A joint venture of the General Electric Company and the individual utility companies during the early 1930s, known as the “Better Light Better Sight” campaign, kept the Edwin F. Guth company busy during the Depression. Of the eight companies listed as lighting equipment manufacturers in the 1930 Gould’s St. Louis city directory, three companies were Guth-owned and operated; only the Edwin F. Guth Company was listed as a lighting fixture manufacturer. During this period, Guth announced his latest ” Guth, Edwin F. Co. Catalogue # 6,1935. Missouri Historical Society Business Catalogue Collectioa
^ St. Louis Commerce. (St. Louis: July 1959) v 33, p 22.

The Edwin F. Guth Company was the only company listed in the 1929 Gould’s Classified Business Directory of the City of St. Louis under lighting equipment. In 1931, three of seven lighting equipment manufacturers were Guth-related. In 1932, one of two was Gum-related and out of eleven lighting invention, the “Super Illuminator” which provided indirect light with a luminous exterior glow. Shortly thereafter in 1937 came his “Optilux,” another indirect lighting fixture.
The “Optilux” had an enclosed top of prismatic glass effective in reducing brightness in normal viewing angles in schoolrooms. One year later in 1938, he invented the “Diagonal Spectral Assimilation” fixture, a lamp that combined the efficiency of a mercury-vapor lamp with an incandescent lamp for both direct and indirect lighting units.
The first fluorescent lamp was introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; an instant success, it ensured the coming of the fluorescent light era of the 1940s. Guth’s version (his 1940 “Jacknife Guthlite”) included a light fixture hinged downward so it could be serviced from the floor. During World War n he invented “The Cadet.” Six thousand and six hundred of these four-foot long units, each limited by the government to three pounds of steel, were installed in the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.

Guth continued to develop incandescent and fluorescent lighting fixtures through the 1970s, expanding the company into the institutional and industrial lighting markets. In 1950, Guth revolutionized the food industry with “Plascolume.” For the first time, a one-piece PVC gasket was integrated into the stainless steel lens frame to achieve the ultimate seal of FDA approval. Still in 1952, Edwin F. Guth, Sr., announced his “Gratelite Louver Diffuser,” a 3/8-inch cube plastic molding that shielded lamps and hid them from all normal angles. By 1959 his “Prismoid Louver” appeared on the scene to permit a two-fold prism control of light. This complicated louver was made of plastic with tiny apertures on one side flaring out to larger openings on the other; with the apex up, a concentrated distribution of light was achieved and turned over, a wide beam of light resulted.

While many companies were leaving downtown St. Louis for St. Louis County during the 1960’s, Guth chose to remain in the city, and expand his business there. On its sixty-year anniversary (January 22, 1962) the Edwin F. Guth Company broke ground on a new 100,000 square foot addition (addition to building C). Designed by St. Louis architects, William B. Ittner, Inc., and Wedemeyer and Hecker, the column-less “60th Anniversary equipment dealers, two were Gulh-related In 1933, one of three lighting equipment manufacturers was Guth-related; two of eight lighting equipment dealers were Guth-related. In 1935 and 1936, three of six lighting equipment manufacturers were Guth-related.

15 St. Louis Commerce. (St Louis: July 1959) v 33, p 22.
16 “Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” (St Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002).

Building” cost $800,000. In a press release on the ground breaking ceremonies, Mr. Guth
Stated “The new Guth plant addition is built with faith in the continued growth of
the city of St. Louis… at a time when St. Louis has lost many businesses it is
important to reaffirm our belief that downtown St. Louis has tremendous
business potential.” 17

This addition housed new production machinery and finishing equipment; smaller
adjoining buildings housed paint mixing facilities, baking ovens, and storage. With the
new addition, The Edwin F. Guth Company had a total of 350,000 square feet of
productive manufacturing area. The addition was recently separated from the Guth
complex by the installation of a permanent interior wall approximately thirty feet inside
the addition, (see site map, page 18)

Edwin F. Guth, Sr., died on January 31, 1962 with 160 U. S. Patents in the lighting
industry field to his name; most of which were issued during the period of significance. 18
In addition to his accomplishments as an inventor, Guth was included in the Gould’s Blue
Book, a social registry of the city’s most prominent citizens, as early as 1905. He held a
number of important local company directorships including: Celotex Corp., National
Gypsum Co. and the Jefferson Bank. Guth was also a member of the Shrine and he held
active memberships in the Liederkranz Club, Missouri Athletic Club, Latin American
Club, Algonquin Country Club, Rotary and the St. Louis Metal Trades Association. He
was awarded the “Modern Pioneer” award by the National Association of Manufacturers
around 1959 which honored him for being “a Modern Pioneer on the frontier of
American Industry.” The award was given in recognition of “distinguished achievement
in the field of science and invention which has advanced the American standard of
living.” 19

After his death, Guth’s son Edwin F., Jr., took over as president. Remaining true to his
father’s desire to stay in the city of St. Louis, in 1963 Jr., commissioned a second
production building. This 8,000 square foot building (building E) at the west, was built
to house a new Hi-Production Hydroform machine (a product of the Cincinnati Milling

” Edwin F. Guth Company. Press Release, January 22,1962. Missouri Historical Society Collection.
18 Donald Hencke. Edwin F. Guth Company, News release. January 31,1962. Also confirmed in Salute to
St. Louis Industry, 1963. Landmarks Collection.
” Sr. Louis Commerce. (St Louis: July 1959) v 33, p 22.

Machine Company). Frank Currans, one of the six original engineers who developed the
machine, was in charge of the Guth Company’s Hydroform operations. This machine
enabled Guth Lighting to fabricate extremely intricate reflector designs that had not yet
been considered cost-effective. The machine was so versatile that Ford sent Guth molds
and had the company form some of the tail light assemblies used on the 1965 Ford

Guth lighting illuminates the Missouri State Capitol, the Soldier’s Memorial, Kiel
Auditorium, the St. Louis Police Headquarters, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Civil
Courts Building, and the Municipal Opera. Nationally, the Government Printing Office
at Washington was relit three times with Guth lights (before 1959). Nearly 20,000 Guth
fixtures were installed in Chicago’s U. S. Post Office. Numerous other projects (before
1959) included the Presidential News Conference Room in Gettysburg, twenty-eight
Steam Plants of TVA, the Philadelphia National Bank, the First National Bank of Mobile,
the Glenn L. Martin Company drafting room, and the Cooper-Bessemer Corporation
drafting and design room in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

The Edwin F. Guth Company’s immeasurable contribution to the American lighting
fixture industry extended over sixty years; from 1907 onward, products were invented,
designed and manufactured by his firms at 2615 Washington Avenue. The company
remained under Guth ownership until it was sold to JJI Lighting Group in 1966 (after the
period of significance); Guth Lighting remains in business at this same address today,
bears the Guth name and continues to manufacture and distribute Guth products world
wide. Today, Guth’s parent company, JJI Lighting Group, is the largest privately-held
lighting manufacturer in the country and the ninth largest worldwide.21
0 “Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” (St Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002).
1 Sorldns Directory of Business & Government. St Louis Region Edition, 2003. v 2, p 817.

A Preservation Plan for St. Louis. Heritage and Urban Design Division. (St. Louis, 1995)
Book of St. Louisans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Men of the City of St. Louis.
(St. Louis: St. Louis Republic, 1906 and 1912)
City of St. Louis building permit records. St. Louis City Hall, Office of the Assessor.
City of St. Louis deed abstracts. St. Louis City Hall, Office of the Assessor.
Edwin F. Guth Company catalogues and bulletin, (catalogues #6; #10, 1923; Brascolite
Bulletin for Hospitals, 1921; #24, 1929; #40, 1942. (St. Louis: E. F. Guth Co.).
Guth Celebrates 100 Years of Lighting Innovation. (St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002)
and featured in Lighting Design + Application. (May 2002).
“Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” (St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group,
“Guth Lighting Moves Forward with St. Louis.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Sunday
Magazine. (Feb 3, 1963).
Jensen, DanaD., ed.. Bulletin of ‘the Missouri Historical Society. (St. Louis: MHS, July
1950) v. VI, n. 4, p. 556.
Maril, Nadja. American Lighting: 1840-1940. (Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1995).
Missouri Historical Society Archives: Coiporations and Industry Collection. “Salute to
St. Louis Industry,” 1963; “Welcome to Guth Lighting,” 1962; “Guth Builds New
Hydroform Plant,” 1963; “Release on Ground-Breaking Ceremonies,” 1962; “Founder of
the Edwin F. Guth Company Dies,” 1962
St. Louis Chamber of Commerce News. (St. Louis: Chamber of Commerce) December
18, 1929. v. 1-3, Novl2, 1928-Dec 31, 1929. St. Louis Public Library Collection.
St. Louis City Directories: Gould’s Blue Book, Gould’s Red-Blue Books, Gould-Polk.
St. Louis Commerce. “Edwin F. Guth, St., St. Louis Inventor” (St. Louis, July 1959) v 33.
St. Louis Daily Record. St. Louis Public Library, microfilm department.
St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “Edwin Guth is Still an Inventor at 85” (Oct 31, 1960);
“Lighting Firm Starts $800,000 Addition” (Jan 23, 1962); ‘lighting Equipment Outlook
Bright for ’63” (Jan 5, 1963); “Success A Father and Son Tradition” and “Guth Firm to
Hold Sales Conference” (Feb 23, 1963); “Guth Starts Building New Hydroform Plant”
(Oct 19, 1963); “E. F. Guth Lighting Company” (Jan 9, 1971).
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Guth Plans Major Expansion” (Sept 24, 1961); “Edwin F. Guth
Jr.” (May 8, 2001).