The history of lamps is long and has been woven throughout time. We have references threw out history concerning the lamp. They have been used to spread and provide light for early households. The lamp was in use long before electricity and the idea of lighting was given new meaning with the invention of the lamp. All lamps normally fall into two distinct classifications. The first is the pre-electrical lamp and the second is the lamp that uses electricity or post-electrical.
Lamps: Pre-electrical Era
Pre-electrical lamps can first be found in evidence dating back to a pre-historic time or around 70,000 B.C. Since bronze or other metals were not being used at this time the early lamps were placed in hollow rock or even shells that were large enough.
The early man used any vessel that would contain the fire and the fuel. These containers were filled with any natural flammable products and moss probably soaked with animal fat to help with the fire. It is readily apparent that the lamps were small and did not contain much fuel. These lamps would need to be moved from place to place very carefully.
As man progressed man began to make pottery and use metals such as copper and bronze. With the introduction of these products, lamps became more of an art. These materials allowed some creativity and also allowed them to become larger. At some point, the use of a wick was introduced and that changed the functionally of all lamps. The wick allowed the person to control the flame and also control the rate of burn.
By the 7th century BC, Greeks were using terracotta lamps. This is a lamp that is made from baked clay. These handheld lamps were easily formed into different shapes that provided some type of artistic creativity and the art itself begin to be noticed. These lamps became so popular that the name was derived from the Greek word “lampas” which means lamp.
Major Lamp Design Changes
In the 18th century, a central burner system was invented, allowing the fuel source to become separate from the lamp itself. With this invention, the fuel could be placed in a separate container and allowed to be accessed through a hollow tube. Air holes were placed in the tube that allowed the user to control the amount of air to the flame. This allowed the light intensity and amount of fuel to be controlled and adjusted as needed.
Another major addition to the progress of the lamp was the invention of the glass chimney. The chimney helped with controlling the burning of the lamp flame. This glass chimney aided in protecting the flame from being extinguished and also helped in controlling airflow which assisted in flame control and burn-rate.
A Swiss chemist, Ami Argand, used a circular wick with an oil lamp in the year 1783. This wick provided a more even and controlled burn rate and flame.
Fuels used in Lamps
The types of fuel that are used for lamps have changed quite a bit since its inception in 70,000 BC. The earliest fuel used was beeswax, then later animal fat, olive oil, sesame oil, and fish oil. When ships were large enough then whale oil was then used. Some of the early fuels were even made from nut oil. These types of early fuel were used until the late 18th century.
In 1853, the first drilling was done to look for petroleum, and shortly afterward kerosene, a derivative of petroleum was produced. This proved to be an extremely popular and efficient fuel for lamps. The usage of kerosene immediately became popular and soon replace all of the other types of fuel.
There were also two other types of fuel being used in lamps. These were natural gas and coal. The use of coal began in 1874.
Lamps Using Electricity
The progress of using electricity to light lamps has come a long way from the use of coal gas. The first electric carbon arc lamp was introduced in England by Sir Humphrey David. his lamp was the first of its kind and revolutionized the progress of modern-day lamps. The practical idea behind this technology was simple, it connected two small carbon rods to a source of electricity.
The two rods were placed a short distance apart and allowed electricity to flow between the rods. The effect would be to vaporize the rods and would produce white light. In the year 1857, A.E. Becquerel introduced the theory of fluorescent lighting used in lamps. In 1870, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent lamp. This type of lamp remained popular until the late 20th century.
The mercury vapor lamp was introduced in 1901 by Peter Cooper Hewitt. The mercury vapor lamp was used with mercury enclosed glass type and when heated produced a white light.
Today almost all types of recent lighting might be found in a home. All of these different types of lamps are a far cry from the lighting that was first available. It is going to be interesting to wait and see what other types of developments and progress will be coming in the future.