In 1963, British engineer Edward Craven Walker, developed a new type of lamp - inspired by an egg timer in which a blob of wax liquid rose when the egg was ready.
The Lava-Lamp, or Astro-Lamp as it then known, was presented for the first time to great interest at a Hamburg Trade Show in 1965. Two American entrepreneurs quickly snapped up the American rights to the product and began to produce it as the Lava Lite® via a corporation trading as Lava World International. Walker’s own company also reaped huge profits as the lamp’s popularity soared worldwide throughout the 60’s and 70’s thanks primarily to the Age of Aquarius generation.
The lamp consists of a base, a glass bottle that contains the ‘lava’ and a top cap. Within the glass bottle is a liquid and wax mixture each of which have slightly different densities. The base of the lava lamp contains a 40-watt light bulb that supplies both illumination as well the heat that drives the lava globules to move around inside the glass bottle - rising as they heat up and falling as they cool down again.
Edward Craven Walker was also a naturist and by the 1980’s was more interested in running his nudist camps and directing naturist underwater films than Lava Lamps. Sales started to fall off and in 1989 he sold off his company to a company owned by two British antique dealers who set forth to re-launch the Lava Lamp on the world.
In 1992, they renamed the company Mathmos, after the bubbling force in the 1968 cult film Barbarella, and launched Telstar, a rocket shaped Lava Lamp. It was a huge success worldwide with literally millions being sold over the next ten years.
By 2002, copies had started to appear as both the UK and US patents had expired, although both Mathmos and Lava World continue to make Lava Lamps 40 years on.
Peter Shuttlewood is the author of webzine freshread which contains articles on Popular Culture with an Australian slant. freshread - the everyday in a fresh way.