A lamplighter, historically, was an employee of a town who lit street lights.
Lights were lit each evening, generally by means of a wick on a long pole. At dawn, they would return to put them out using a small hook on the same pole. Early street lights were generally candles, oil, and similar consumable liquid or solid lighting sources with wicks.
Another lamplighter duty was to carry a ladder and renew the candles, oil, or gas mantles.
In the 19th century, gas lights became the dominant form of street lighting. Early gaslights required lamplighters, but eventually systems were developed which allowed the lights to operate automatically.
There is a long history of the role of a lamplighter-as-lightbringer as a symbolic figure in literature.
- The Lamplighter was an 1854 novel by Maria Susanna Cummins.
- A lamplighter, never actually seen, is the central figure in Bolesław Prus' 1885 micro-story, "Shades."
- The Lamplighter was a 1929 collection of poems by Irish poet Seamus O'Sullivan.
- A lamplighter who lives on an asteroid that rotates once a minute was one of the inhabitants of the universe in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's 1943 novel, The Little Prince.
- "Death of a Lamplighter" was the title given to Lucky's Dance by the character Estragon, in the original French text of Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot" (1952).
- "Lamplighters" are referred to in John le Carré's novels, notably Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), and Smiley's People (1979), frequently associated with their boss, Toby Esterhase; their job is to carry out surveillance.
- "Lamplighter" was a 1987 children's story by Bernice Thurman Hunter.
- "The Lamplighter" was a Golden Age superhero in Kurt Busiek's Astro City comic books.
- Lamplighter (comics) is also the name of a DC Comics supervillain.
- Lamplighter (2006) is the second book in fantasy author D. M. Cornish's trilogy Monster Blood Tattoo.
- "The Lamplighter" is the title of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in A Child's Garden of Verses.
- The Lamplighter is the title of a 2007 radio play on the slave trade by Jackie Kay, published in poem form in 2008.
- Frank Serpico an NYPD whistleblower prefers to use the term "lamplighter" to describe the whistleblower's role as a "watchman".
- "Lamplighter" is a historic nightclub in Vancouver.
- L. Jagi Lamplighter is an American fantasy writer.
- Lamplighters Music Theatre is a San Francisco-based light opera company.
- Lamplighters Theatre is a Smyrna, Tennessee-based community theatre.
- The Lamplighter group is a mathematical object.
- The Old Lamp-Lighter is a popular song.
- Lamplighter is a large apartment complex in Bellevue, Washington.
- A Lamplighter is a term used to refer to a covert surveillance operative.