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