The Charm of the Lava Lamp
Finished lava lamps are shown on display at the Mathmos factory on September 12, 2013. (Getty Images)
Although Lava Lamps are not a thing of the past, they sure do take me way back. Lava Lamps were first invented in 1963 by a British accountant named, Edward Craven-Walker. Oddly enough, his inspiration came from, of all things, an egg timer. This particular egg timer had been a homemade project fashioned out of a glass cocktail shaker filled with liquid. The egg timer, which was used in a local pub, was sitting on a stovetop bubbling when it caught his eye. It intrigued Craven-Walker and the wheels started turning.
Craven-Walker combined a mixture of wax and water which was sealed in a glass tube/globe. The wax is the matter that is referred to as the “lava”. The globe filled with the wax and water combination sits on top of a metal base containing a light bulb.
Lava Lamps function by the wax mixture expanding as it heats up, resulting in it having a reduced density that causes it to rise. When the wax mixture rises, it moves to the top of the globe which is cooler than the part of the globe closest to the light bulb. When the wax cools a bit, it contracts and sinks back down where it heats up and rises again. As the wax expands and contracts it creates blobs of color that float up and down within the globe.
The charm of the Lava Lamp is that it all you have to do is plug it in and wait. For some reason, it is fascinating just to watch. Each time the wax separates, floats up and falls again, a new shape is formed. Just like human fingerprints, no two lava lamps are the same
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Lava Lamps were all the rage. The first time they were seen on television was in the Doctor Who series. After being seen on television, people were intrigued by the novelty.
Before long, Lava Lamps were flying off the shelves. They were popular pieces of home décor at the time. Adults and children loved them. It wasn’t unusual to go to someone’s home and see a Lava Lamp proudly displayed as a focal point in the room.
Lava lamps were especially popular with teenagers. I remember going to house parties as a teenager and the only light amid the smoke was the soft glow of a psychedelic Lava Lamp. Depending on a person’s state of mind, it wasn’t unheard of for someone to get totally lost in the allure of the lamp with all of its mind-blowing, ever-changing, futuristic shape formations.
Lava Lamps were probably most popular in the 1970s and 1980s but they made a real comeback in the 1990s and are still produced and purchased today. They were originally called the “Astro Globe”. They have also been referred to as, “Lava Lite”, “Liquid Motion Lamp”, “Bubble Lamp” and “Lava Lite Lamps”. In addition to different names over the years, the Lava Lamp has evolved and is now available in a variety of shapes and styles.
The tallest known Lava Lamp in the world is 4 feet tall and holds an astounding 10 gallons of a top-secret lava formula. The most expensive Lava Lamp was reportedly sold for a whopping $15,000.00. That is a lot of lava!
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