New York "Cup Light"

February 1999

This incandescent luminaire was common along New York City highways and bridges in the 1950's. It could be found on a variety of pole styles -- wood poles with thick wood crossarms, decorative cast iron bracket arms braced with lattice work, and plain pipe arms that arched over the roadway to name a few. In the 1970's and 1980's many were retrofitted with mercury lamps and with ballasts on or buried near the pole. Then in the late 1980's they were rapidly retired, and today only an isolated example can be found in service, or found dead on a pole bracket.

I first heard the nickname "cup light" from other streetlight hobbyists. I wasn't sure where the name came from until I came upon a photograph of one missing its glass, captioned "cuplight without the cup". (Web location of that picture will remain unnamed for now.) But many other styles of streetlights have the same shaped glass refractor.

The luminaire has a one piece cast aluminum shell. The specimen here has a bolted on slip fitter for a horizontal bracket arm; they were also made with a threaded hole on top for a vertical pipe mount. The reflector is stamped aluminum and held inside by four 1/8 inch spring loaded studs around the lower perimeter. In the picture above, small bumps can be seen above the lower rim of the body; the studs are inside them. The overall size of the luminaire suggests that 4000 lumen (295 watt) or 6000 lumen (405 watt) lamps were most often used. The reflector in this unit is somewhat tarnished, much duller than the Alzak (R) process polished aluminum reflectors in other luminaires that have kept their shine to this day. We are not sure whether this was due to the salty air environment of coastal Long Island or due to overheating from a lamp of too high wattage.

There were no manufacturer's markings on this specimen.

The refractor is set in a cast aluminum ring and rotated so tabs engage slots in the ring. The ring is hinged to the body shell one one side and held in place with a latch diametrically opposite. Care must be taken when lowering the refractor for servicing since if it should rotate, the tabs could disengage and it would fall out of the ring. Care must also be taken to lower the latch fully into the locked position as it is not spring loaded.

This specimen came with a plastic approximately hemispherical refractor that appears to be interchangeable with a glass refractor of the same shape in a Westinghouse gumball luminaire in this writer's collection. The plastic has yellowed with age and from the intense light from the lamp inside. It is possible a choice of refractor including deep bowl styles was offered.

The fin below the lamp is an additional reflector to direct light away from houses and into the street.

Height of body shell excluding refractor: 13-1/2".
Outer diameter at lower rim: 15-1/2", 17-1/4 over hinge and latch sections.
Diameter of inner reflector lower rim: 12-1/2".
Diameter of heat dissipation hole at top of reflector: 4-1/2".

Weight not including refractor: 9-1/4 lb.
Weight complete with hemispherical plastic refractor: 12 lb.
Weight complete with hemispherical glass refractor: 18-1/4 lb.

Markings on rim of plastic refractor: FP 2002/117 Formed Plastic, Inc., 207 Stonehinge Lane, Carle Place, LI (Long Island), NY 11514

From the collection of Larry Rogak.

Several on location photographs of this luminaire can be found on Jeff Saltzman's web site Go to the streetlight page and click on Photo Gallery. Then scroll down to and click on entries with "cup light" in the caption.

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