Do you own a lava lamp, or “motion light”, as they are also known? (Some people refer to them as “Plasma Lamps” too.) Many people do. I used to have one, and it may be buried in my attic if I still have it. They were popular in the 1960’s when the “Psychedelic Movement” embraced the strange-looking lamp. Its inventor helped promote his invention by proclaiming, “If you buy my lamp, you won’t need to buy drugs.” They’re still being produced and sold today in a variety of sizes and designs.
If you’ve never seen a lava lamp, it’s a cone-shaped lamp that has a lighted, clear middle body that’s made of Borosilicate glass. Borosilicate is a special glass that can handle temperature fluctuations without breaking. The clear body is usually illuminated by a light bulb in the base. The base, as well as the upper casing above the body is made of metal.
The main body is made of clear glass so the inner liquids and wax can be seen. The liquids are a variety of colors, and so is the “lava”.
The lava light got its name because it is said to have the look of “flowing lava.”
Inside the clear glass body are two components. They are called, “water and lava”, but their real identities are unknown to the public. (That’s part of the appeal of a lava lamp. We know HOW they work, but we don’t know WHAT exactly the manufacturers use to make them work.) There are also a couple blobs of wax inside the clear body. The top of the glass body is actually open. The liquids and the wax are sealed in with a sealed metal cap.
Now when a lava lamp is unplugged and is sitting there, it’s not much to look at. You can see the liquids, but the wax is barely visible as it lies there lifeless at the bottom of the clear glass body. Once the lamp is plugged into a household outlet, and the switch is turned on, the light bulb in the base slowly heats an element and the lava. This process is slow and it takes awhile to happen. As the lava becomes heated, it expands. Once it expands, it becomes lighter than the water. It then rises to the top of the glass body. At the top, the lava isn’t heated anymore, so it cools down and falls down again. The process repeats itself as the wax is again heated and rises.
What makes a lava lamp, or motion lamp, especially interesting to watch, is that the lava breaks into smaller globs which rise and fall.
So, who came up with the idea for the lava lamp? The story is that an Englishman named Edward Craven Walker visited a pub in England one day. On the bar was an interesting-looking apparatus that was “made out of a cocktail shaker, old tins and things.” Walker was so taken by the light that he bought it. He then spent the next ten years re-inventing it.
When Walker was finally finished, he renamed it the “Astrolight” or “Astro Lamp”. He took it to a trade show in Hamburg, Germany in 1965. Adolph Wertheimer
liked it so much that he purchased the American rights to it. His company manufactured the light under the name “Lava Lite”™.
Edward Craven Walker finally sold the remaining rights to the lamp in the 1990’s. Cressida Granger bought them, and began to manufacture lava lamps through the Mathmos company.
Today, lava lamps are still being produced and sold at such stores as Target, Amazon.com, and lampsplus.com. You can also check eBay.com to find a “good used” lava lamp or a new one in the box that’s reasonably priced.