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*Updated* Woodlites – The Futuristic Headlights of the Past

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*Update* at the bottom of the post.

Woodlite headlamps, invented by William G. Woods came on the market late in the roaring-twenties and were distinctive, and attractive. From what little information there is to be found surrounding the futuristic looking headlights today, it appears that Don and Charles Benton manufactured both the head and parking lamps in the Los Angeles area and had this set of promotional images taken there during 1929.

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  • Buffing lamps at the factory and a 1929 Packard detail photo showing a “Woodlite” headlamp and a parking lamp mounted on the fender.

Seen at the top is a pair of the headlamps on the Los Angeles Fire Chief’s Chrysler. The photo below shows a Chrysler 75 Roadster demonstrator apparently belonging to the Moore Brothers Motor Co. that appears to have been a dealer for the automaker in the Los Angeles area.

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Below left we see a Kenworth ten-wheeler modeling a pair of Woodlites, apparently to try to get truckers and trucking companies interested in using them on their rigs. In the center is a photo of what may have been a prototype taillight later in 1930. On the right is a Packard Phaeton that was used for carrying an Exalted Ruler for a fraternal organization.

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And finally below we see a rare DuPont modeling a pair of Woodlites. You can learn more about the innovative lamps and also see the patent drawings for them here in an earlier post on The Old Motor. If you can add any information about any of the vehicles or the locations seen in the images let us know. The photos are courtesy of the USC Libraries.

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According to Everett Miller a pre-war designer of automobiles and respected post-war historian, quoted in the September – October 1971 Ford Life magazine: “The lamps were not really superior to other lamps at the time, but they did serve a good functional purpose. Rather than throw a narrow beam of light as one might expect, a functional feature was to throw a beam of light a further distance than the regular round headlamp”.

18 responses to “*Updated* Woodlites – The Futuristic Headlights of the Past

  1. Woodlites may have been sexy looking, but they were sadly deficient as headlights. Or so I’ve been told. Never owned a car equipped with them.

    • That is what we pointed out in the text because it is what is generally believed about them today.

      It would be interesting to correctly restore a set and try them to see how they actually work, and to know if what has been said about them is in fact true.

      • A friend, Barry Wolk, is currently restoring a Ruxton for a friend of his, that has Woodlites. I am not sure what they are going to do with the lights, they have built the car to be driven and have upgraded some basic items such as u-joints…

          • I have a pair of these great lights. Have had them restored to there former glory. Going to put them on my Auburn. Also took a mold and made a pair and stuck them on my Ratrod . There so cool.

          • well, it took me over a year to find some and I finally acquired 2 sets, but one is missing a lense and a top cover, so im now looking for parts for this one.

  2. I would be interested in the physics of the light projection since common sense doesn’t say much for them. Does anyone know the theory behind this bizarre method of illumination?

  3. I thought I remembered reading somewhere that the light was so focused, one could light a cigarette where the beam crossed itself in front of the lamp?

  4. I have a set or these on my 1936 Auburn Combination Car . I have converted them to 12V bulbs . I dont have the right mounting brackets for them , but everyone loves them on my car . oh and my Auburn is one of 33 that body style also .

  5. Road&Track printed a whole article about Woodlights back in the early ’60s, as I recall. Really detailed, what I remember as patent drawings, light beam trajectories, etc. I really miss John Bond and his original R&T.

  6. I haven’t seen them in service, but the optical design of the reflectors was done in such a way that no light flares upward from the lens: the bottom half of the reflector focuses light forward and the top half directs light downward (fairly steeply, and maybe not into an area that you could see from the driver’s seat). Side to side, they spread a beam more or less 45 degrees to each side, and the vertical flutes at the top edge of the lens spread the downward-directed part of the beam out further. It was a very sophisticated design, though that is not necessarily to say a very successful one. Does anyone know the relationship between Martha W Caughlan (who designed the optics) and William Wood? There was a Martha Wood Caughlan in that part of California who died in 1955, but I don’t know if it’s the same person or what the relationship was (if any).

  7. they wouldn’t have been much brighter than any other contemporary lamps of the day, They were 6volt, probably maximum 50watt , only beam definition would improve it, but it’s only gonna be as bright as the bulbs in them. so , up to 12v, pair of hdi xenons would definately sort it…. that’d be awesome

  8. A surface mount version of the Woodlite headlamps were used on the NiteCoach (sleeper motorcoach) built by Pickwick Stages in California.

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