50 years of the lava lamp

I didn’t know that the lava lamp was a British invention (and originally known there as the ‘Astro Lamp’), but according to a photo essay in the Telegraph (and a quick check in Wikipedia), it was – fifty years ago.

An early prototype of the ‘Astro Lamp’

The device was invented by an accountant, Edward Craven-Walker, in 1963.  He set up a company with his wife to manufacture them.  They’re shown below next to a delivery van for their products.

H2G2 has an interesting article about lava lamps, including this story (which may or may not be true – opinions differ) of how the device was invented.

Craven-Walker got the idea for the original lamp design after walking into a pub in Hampshire, England and noticing a rather odd item sitting on the counter behind the bar. It was a glass cocktail shaker that contained some kind of mucus-like blob floating in liquid. Upon inquiry, the bartender told him it was an egg-timer. The ‘blob’ was actually a clump of solid wax in clear liquid. The bartender explained: “You put the shaker in the boiling water with your egg, and as the boiling water cooks the egg it also melts the wax turning it into an amorphous blob of goo.” When the wax then floated to the top of the jar, your egg was done.

Craven-Walker saw a money-making opportunity in front of him – turn the egg-timer into a lamp with thicker oil that would form sculptural shapes and sell it to the public. He set about tracking down the inventor of the original design. The inventor, known only by his last name of Dunnet, was deceased, allowing for Craven-Walker to patent the invention for himself.

There’s more at the link, and more images at the Telegraph photo gallery.

I can remember lava lamps at home when I was a child.  Was that truly fifty years ago?  I suddenly feel old and decrepit . . .



  1. Oh, stop that.

    When you remember a time BEFORE lava lamps, then you can feel old. Me, I'm still stunned that there are kids in college today who've never heard the phrase, "Get off the phone, I have to use it."

    I tell ya, it all started when that whole 'fire' thing caught on. Then the spear, the wheel–I knew no good could come of it!!

  2. You can remember lava lamps?
    Man! I've got one standing right beside me as I write this.
    Never stopped having them around he house since high school days!
    Fantastic things, extremely relaxing to watch one.

  3. We had a Lava Lamp at our Dirty Santa party at work last Christmas.
    The old folks like me laughed and the youngsters thought it was cool.
    It was a much coveted prize that day.


  4. 1958, I saw my first lava lamp. I was 8 (yeah, do the math, I'd be a gray beard if I were a man), and was at my first appointment with the ophthalmologist.

    It always struck me as strange that an eye doc, who makes you see fuzz would have something like that in his office, but I found it endlessly fascinated, eyes dilated or not.

    Thanks for the memories! I still think they are pretty neat!

  5. Wow, I just saw that craven 'invented' it in 1963… I am sure, relatively, sure that I saw one before that at the eye docs (my post above.) I'll go investigate. It could be that it was years later.

    Memories are like that, the good ones just float around and may go visiting other brain cells and just attach there.

  6. My older sister got me one in college- fun stuff~
    My igneous geol professor has one in his office, often on, magma memories on volcano slopes:)-
    I have always wanted one like an aquarium, with multiple hot spots, but I suppose the wax would just go all over and make a mess-instead of multiple blooping columns-which would be SOOO cool!

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