Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Lava Lamp, a brief history

Edward Craven Walker was the inventor of one of the most psychedelic pieces of furniture ever invented, the lava lamp. Originally called the 'Astro Lamp,' Walker was first determined to invent the unusual piece when he was inspired at a pub in Hampshire, England. He walked into the pug and saw an interesting object that was composed by a Mr. Dunnet who had deceased. It was an egg timer, a cocktail shaker with wax in it. To make it work, you place the cocktail shaker in the boiling water with your eggs, when the wax inside the shaker melts and reaches the top, your eggs are done. Walker was fascinated, he saw a money-making opportunity here, so he bought the patent from the widow of the inventor and continued for 15 years, perfecting the invention until it was released in the UK, then the US.
Walker tinkered with his idea in his backyard, he replaced the wax with heavy oils so that they would take shape when heated. The lamp is an interesting mix of science and art. Oil and water do not mix, so of course there's need to work about the materials in the lamp mixing. The way the blobs work, what makes it goes up and down, usually comes from a heat source such as light bulb. The heavier liquid(oil, 'blobs') absorbs the heat, and as it heats up, it expands. As it expands it becomes less dense. Because the liquids have very similar densities, the formerly heavier liquid is suddenly lighter than the other liquid, so it rises. As it rises, it cools, making it denser and therefore heavier, so it sinks. There are many different types of ingredients for lava lamps, the patent for the lava lamp says: "a solidified globule of mineral oil such as Ondina 17 (R.T.M.) with a light paraffin, carbon tetrachloride, a dye and paraffin wax.". Though it is somewhat vague, there are different versions on the lamp on the Internet today including many DIY models.
What's very interesting about Walker and his lava lamp is that there's nothing in his past that could have predicted, or lead up to, it. He was not a scientist nor was he an artist. He was born July 4th, 1918 in Singapore. His father was a shipping agent and at the age of three, Walker was sent to attend a boarding school in England. During World War II he was a pilot for the royal air force, flying reconnaissance missions. After the war, he started a travel agency and home-exchange program.
There's not much that would predicted his aspiration, and willingness to create such an interesting piece of work. What a compelled a man, with no artistic background and no architectural or scientific background, to design the 'Lava Lamp'? It could have been possible that he was an innovator, possibly a risk-taker. It could have come to him like a sign, like a shinning light, but whatever it was id definitely the start of an interesting and artistic experience.
Walker was an avid Naturalist, an advocate for social nudity in private and in the public. A lifelong interest, he eventually made nudist films in the '50s and '60s. In '59/'60 made a hit film called 'Traveling Light' promoting nudity and helped him found a nudist club called 'Bournemouth and District Outdoor Club.' The profits from his movies and lava lamps allowed him to create and sustain his establishments.
His Lava Lamp was completed in 1963, called the 'Astro Lamp,' becoming very popular in the psychedelic era of the '60s. Walker's slogan at the time, when referring to the lamp was: “If you buy my lamp, you won't need drugs.” In the '70s the BBC did an investigation showing that some of the chemicals in lava lamps were toxic and harmful to consumers. This and the transition of minimalism in the 70s destroyed the sales of the Astro Lamp and it's company from which it was manufactured was all but shut down. There was revival in the 1990s and sales from this decade and accumulated more profits than the 60s, 70s, and 80s combined. In an interview, Walker lists two reasons for the lamp's enduring appeal: ''It's like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down and then starts all over again. And besides, the shapes are sexy.''

1 comment:

Staff said...

History of the Lava Lamp Singapore-born Englishman Edward Craven Walker invented the lava lamp in the 1960s. His U.S. Patent 3,570,156 for "Display Device" was filed in 1965 and issued in 1968. Walker's company was named Crestworth and was based in Poole, Dorset in the United Kingdom. Walker named the lamp Astro and had variations such as the Astro Mini, the Astro Coach lantern and presented it at a Brussels trade show in 1965, where the entrepreneur Adolph Wertheimer noticed it. Wertheimer and his business partner William Rubinstein bought the American rights and produced it as the Lava Lite via Lava Corporation or Lava Manufacturing Corporation, the origin of the word "lava" for this lamp. Wertheimer sold his shares to Hy Spector. Rubinstein and Spector went on to manufacture and market the Lava Lite in his Chicago factory at 1650 W. Irving Park Rd in the mid-60s. The lamps were a success throughout the 60s and early 70s. Lava Corporation's name changed to Lava-Simplex in the early 1970s.

Hazards of the Lava Lamp An episode of the American TV show MythBusters demonstrated that heating a lava lamp on a stove could make it explode, and that injuries from an explosion could be fatal. The inspiration for that experiment came from a story concerning a man who in 2004 died after a lamp he was heating on a stove to avoid waiting for the wax to warm up exploded, sending glass into his chest.