The History of Lava Lamp

From the psychedelic to the modern era, the history of lava lamp is one interesting story to follow. How did it all begin? Find out here.

The lava lamp is probably one of the coolest inventions in modern history. Back in the late 1960s, it was identical with countercultural and psychedelic things. It was one of the most popular decorative stuff in interior designing. It is also still a favorite in college dorms, but what is the history of lava lamp?

The Inventor of Lava Lamp

Without Edward Craven Walker, there would never be lava lamps like what we all know today. This British accountant had claimed that his other job included making underwater nudist films. Still, how did he come up with this amazing invention?

It all started when Walker was in a pub. He was passing some time there when he noticed a homemade egg timer. That egg timer was crafted from a cocktail shaker. Somehow, the bubbling liquids on a stove top reminded him of some aliens in sci-fi movies back then.

Suddenly, Walker had an idea.

The Process of Lava Lamp

Of course, Walker did not go straight to the eureka moment. He started with a bottle for Orange Squash. The first mixture he used consisted of water and wax. The two liquids are mutually insoluble. The wax stays buoyant because of the water. The heat source that he used came from a light bulb.

As most great investors do, the real ingredients are not fully revealed. However, the key element for this experiment is the solvent carbon tetrachloride. It affects the weight of the wax. The source of the heat from the lamp’s bottom then turns the waxy blob into more liquid-like form.

As the blob expands, there is a decrease in its density. Then it rises to the top, where it also cools down and congeals before sinking back down.

At first, lava lamp was not called “lava lamp.” Walker’s company, Crestworth Ltd., named it “Astro Lamps” and was selling millions of them per year. It was in 1965 that Walker sold the US manufacturing rights to another company called Lava Lite.

Walker’s Real Idea of The Lava Lamp

Many people nowadays identify lava lamps with something groovy and psychedelic. That idea had never come to Walker’s mind. In fact, according to Cressida Granger, the owner of Mathmos, these lava lamps had not been marketed that way. They had been rather staid.

There was a 1968 ad in American Bar Association Journal – where a model was mounted on a walnut base and alongside a ballpoint pen. The design of that ballpoint pen was of that lava lamp.

The Irony of The Lava Lamp

Most lamps are turned on to light up the dark. However, that is not the case with lava lamps. These light fixtures do not cast so much light. In fact, they all look much more appealing in the dark.

Stephen Horner, a lighting design teacher at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, stated that lava lamps have a different function than regular ones. They are made to “create a mood.” The dynamic interior of the fixture might remind you of the flickering hearth. The rocket-shape of the exterior may also remind you of some alien spaceship in sci-fi movies.

Lava Lamps After The 60’s

By the late 1970s, the popularity of lava lamps had cooled down a bit. Some may have kept them still, but others no longer got crazy over them.

Granger met Walker in 1989 when they were both at a nudist camp. Granger informed him that she was interested in buying Crestworth. At that time, Crestworth had only sold about 1000 lights per year.

Lava lamps were back in their popular phase when the first of “Austin Powers” movies were released in the 1990s. Although the movie was set in the mid and late 1960s, its release had brought back the old fame of lava lamps to this generation. College dorms started having them again, although perhaps not with the same psychedelic idea they once had.

The lava lamp fame continued to live on. In 2000, 800 thousand of lava lamps were sold by Mathmos. Lava Lite’s branch in the US even supplies millions every year to some existing retail stores like Target and Wal-Mart.

Mathmos does not only sell lava lamps. They also offer screensavers, LED light bulbs, and other modern stuff. However, lava lamps still rule and seem to be timeless. One of the proofs is the original lava lamp owners that still request for replacement bulbs from them.

In 2013, lava lamp celebrated its 50th birthday. Mathmos still produces lava lamps in Poole, Dorset.

Lava Lamp in Modern Days

Most people prefer colors between red, orange, blue, or green. Lava lamps are also often used in sci-fi movies and TV series, including “The Mythbusters” in 2006. With all its journey, the history of lava lamp is one interesting story about a human invention.

Sources:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-history-of-the-lava-lamp-21201966/

http://www.mathmos.com/Our-story.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lava_lamp

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