The Lava Lamp: Any Truly Groovy '60s Pad Had One. Did Yours?

Fads | January 19, 2018

Left: detail of a 1980 publicity photo of the B-52s, in which singer Kate Pierson holds a lava lamp. Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images. Right: a lava lamp in action with the lights turned off. Source: Wikimedia commons.

In the ultimate groovy pad, the lava lamp is a must. The beanbag chair, the hand chair, the macrame owl, a poster by R. Crumb -- there are lots of pieces of furniture and decor that take us back to that era but nothing quite like a lava lamp. Shaped like a rocket, it seems to run on space-age chemicals (even though it doesn't), and it's trippy and hypnotic -- the lava lamp combines the optimisic futurism of the early '60s with the psychedelic haze of the late '60s. 

The First Lava Lamp

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.

It's Not Really Lava, You Know

Craven-Walker combined a mixture of wax and water which was sealed in a glass tube or 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.

Science In Action

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.

Endless Variety

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

The Lava Lamp On TV

Lava lamps on the 'Dr. Who' episode 'The Wheel In Space' from 1968. Source: pinterest

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.

That Lava Lamp Vibe

Lava lamps were especially popular with teenagers -- at the best house parties, the soft, psychedelic glow of a lava lamp might be the only light amid the smoke. 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.

The Lava Lamp Today

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!

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Art In The 1960s | Doctor Who | Lava Lamps | The 1960s

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.