Edward F. Caldwell, Lighting Master of the DAR Headquarters

Written by: Patrick Sheary, DAR Museum Curator of Furnishings
November 10, 2016

In the early 20th century the firm of E. F. Caldwell (not to be confused with J.E. Caldwell of Philadelphia) became one of the most important lighting manufacturers in the nation. Edward F. Caldwell (1851-1914) and Victor von Lossberg (1853-1942) established E. F. Caldwell and Co. of New York in 1895. A portrait painter by training, Caldwell met his business partner von Lossberg while they worked as lighting designers for Archer & Pancoast Manufacturing Company.

A testament to their success,  E. F. Caldwell lighting can be seen in many important public buildings and houses designed by famous architects like McKim, Mead and White, Carrère and Hastings, Horace Trumbauer, Cass Gilbert and John Russell Pope. Their client list is impressive as well; Henry Clay Frick, John Jacob Astor, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Frederick W. Vanderbilt all were Caldwell customers. They even made the lighting fixtures for the White House.

The firm excelled in adapting historic styles to the new electric technology and patented clever electric switches used to operate some of their fixtures. Keeping up with the latest design styles in the late 1920s and 1930s, the firm created fixtures in the Art Deco style, the most important commission being Rockefeller Center. During the early 1950s they made modernist lighting fixtures for the United Nations building. In 1959, because of financial reasons, E. F. Caldwell closed.   

Recent research that I conducted reveals that E. F. Caldwell made some of the lighting fixtures in the DAR headquarters complex. One of the most important resources consulted are the Caldwell design books located in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Library in New York City. Examining the Caldwell design books confirms that E. F. Caldwell made the gilt bronze sconces in the Genealogy Office. Architect Edward Pierce Casey likely chose these fixtures in the French classical style that date to 1910.

In the late 1920s, E. F. Caldwell also made the lighting for DAR Constitution Hall, though only a few of the original Caldwell fixtures survive. The gilded and enamel painted chandelier in the President General’s Reception Room is one example. This fixture is in the Roman classical style and features a gilded American bald eagle as a central finial. Another example is the large silver and gilded bronze lantern that hangs above the Kansas Chapel. John Russell Pope, architect for Constitution Hall likely chose the fixtures.

Perhaps the largest collection of E. F. Caldwell fixtures is in the Administration Building. They made all of the gilded bronze lighting fixtures including, the D Street vestibule lantern, stair hall lantern, staircase sconces  and the three cut glass and silvered bronze chandeliers and matching sconces in the PG Assembly Room. These fixtures were installed in 1950 when the final addition to the Administration Building was completed. This time architects Eggers and Higgins, the successor firm to Pope, made the choice.

The work of E. F. Caldwell extended beyond lighting. After Edward Caldwell died in 1914, von Lossberg took over the firm and designed an array of desk accessories, clocks, furniture and even telephones . The next time you find yourself visiting DAR headquarters, take some extra time to see these fine quality lighting fixtures first hand.   

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