Who invented the first portable lighting tower?
This depends heavily on your definition of a lighting tower. A broad definition could include something as simple as a candle or primitive torch placed on a tall mast to cast light over a large area, such a device has probably been in use since the Stone Age.
In more recent history it's un-clear as to when the modern lighting tower was invented. Researching patent applications indicates that machines not dissimilar to today's lighting towers were being designed in the 1930s.
A patent from 1932 shows what might be the first machine of its kind filed in US patent 1934576 and is named as a "Portable floodlighting unit for airports".
The patent describes a chassis with 4 wheels at each corner (allowing the machine to be towed), a generator powered by an engine and one large electric lamp at each end of the vehicle. The machine is designed to be used to provide on-demand lighting of alternative landing sites at airports on occasions when the main landing areas are out of use because of adverse weather conditions.
More recently in 1980 a US patent 4181929 was filed for a Portable illuminating tower that illustrates a much closer resemblance to modern day lighting towers.
The US patent 4181929 describes a portable lighting tower consisting of a base frame (which contains an engine and generator) and a vertical, extending, hydraulic mast with two electric lamps at the upper end. The unit does not permit towing but instead is lightweight and compact enough to be easily transported. The design also includes jack legs that are now common place on all lighting towers to ensure stability in high winds.
This is quite a significant development in the history of the lighting tower as this patent largely forms the basis of most modern daylight lighting towers which contain similar elements such as a base that stores the engine and generator along with an extending hydraulic mast that supports the luminaries .
The next patent was filed later in the same year of 1980 but was for a solution to provide more extensive illumination. The US patent 4220981 describes a chassis with 4 wheels to hold the generator and engine and two folding telescopic masts at opposite corners of the chassis that each hold a cluster of electric lamps. The design also allows for the masts to be rotated enabling finer control of the area of illumination. By offering two masts the light tower also allows for illumination over nearly all sides of the machine. This is unlike previous light towers which generally offer illumination on only one side of the machine.
Since 1980 considering progress has been made by lighting tower manufacturers. Although the overall design has varied little from those seen in the 1980s many improvements have been made to make lighting towers easier to use and more environmentally friendly.
The Hylite lighting tower from Taylor Construction Plant includes Adjustabeam © technology which allows the user to adjust the direction of each lamp from the ground. The TCP Hylite also has a flexible chassis design which allows almost any generator to be used to power the light heads.
The TCP Ecolite lighting tower has also broken new ground by utilizing extremely economical lamps to reduce fuel consumption dramatically, which is particularly timely seeing as global warming is becoming a more and more prevalent concern.