How An Egg Timer Led To The Invention Of The Lava Lamp

In the design world, as especially seen through the interior design and fashion worlds, style is cyclical, and no light fixture emphasises this fact as much as the lava lamp.

Initially designed as luxury desk lamps for offices and homes, the kinetic and mesmerising lighting device would become one of the most potent and enduring symbols of an era of free expression and cultural revolution, one that constantly cycles in and out of fashion.

However, what many people may not know from staring at the iconic rocket design, the free-flowing wax shapes and the brightly coloured lights is that the design was originally concocted after a trip to a pub in Dorset.

What one enterprising chef had done was mix several liquids into a glass cocktail shaker and this sparked an idea in Edward Craven Walker to create a unique type of lamp.

After this, he hired David George Smith to help develop the chemical formula he needed, which according to a patent in 1968 included the use of mineral oil, paraffin wax, carbon tetrachloride ad water, all of which could have food colouring or dyes added to them.

The mixture would rise when heated, creating blobs and shapes that would float to the top and then cool, causing them to start dropping down, bouncing into other blobs and either combining or causing unique movements.

The process for developing this idea into a product was a matter of trying every type of bottle and container design until Mr Craven Walker found the one that worked best, with the bottle design from Tree Top Orange Squash being one of the most effective.

It was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s, falling out of favour by the start of the 1980s before being revitalised by a “sixties revival” cultural trend in the 1990s led in part by Cool Britannia.

Since then, lava lamps have continued to cycle in and out of popular culture.