The Lava Lamp

This iconic decorative lamp of the 60s is still well-known today. It’s not very functional, but it is hypnotic: the neon-bright “lava” inside grows and shrinks, soars and sinks, mesmerizing us like the flickering hearth that hypnotized our ancestors. Let’s follow the rise and fall of the lava lamp and make our own just from what we can find in the kitchen.

The story of the beloved object began immediately after World War II, in an English pub in the county of Dorset. The owners of the pub used a clever homemade timer for cooking eggs, which was made by one of their regular customers, Alfred Dunnett. A glass shaker was filled with a liquid containing blobs of oil. It was then thrown together with the eggs into boiling water, and the blobs in it rose through the thickness of the liquid exactly in the time it took to hard-boil the egg. This clever device interested another frequent guest of the pub — Edward Craven Walker, a British accountant. He bought the patent from the widow of Alfred Dunnett and spent the next 10+ years modifying the device in his backyard. The Dunnett timer became the prototype of the lava lamp.

Prototype of the lava lamp manufactured by Alfred Dennett
Prototype of the lava lamp manufactured by Alfred Dennett

Prototype of the lava lamp manufactured by Alfred Dennett

In 1963, Craven and his wife Christine Craven Walker founded the Crestworth lighting company and produced the first units for sale. Initially, the lamps were marketed as luxury items, but they quickly gained popularity among young people, hippies, and fans of psychedelic music. Love for the mesmerizing objects also became a kind of revolt against the wartime grey tones, when bright colors were too expensive to produce. After the war, industry boomed, and the market was filled with bright and neon colors.

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An astronaut floating in space above the earth, surrounded by particles and positrons.

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