“I think it will always be popular. It’s like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down and then starts all over again” Edward Craven-Walker
A lava lamp is a decorative lamp, invented in 1963 by British entrepreneur Edward Craven Walker, the founder of the lighting company Mathmos. It consists of a bolus of a special coloured wax mixture inside a glass vessel, the remainder of which contains clear or translucent liquid. The vessel is placed on a base containing an incandescent light bulb whose heat causes temporary reductions in the wax’s density and the liquid’s surface tension. As the warmed wax rises through the liquid, it cools, loses its buoyancy, and falls back to the bottom of the vessel in a cycle that is visually suggestive of pāhoehoe lava, hence the name. The lamps are designed in a variety of styles and colours.
Lava lamps are often associated with hippie culture and cannabis culture.
British entrepreneur Edward Craven Walker had the idea for the lava lamp in 1963 after watching a homemade egg timer, made from a cocktail shaker filled with liquids, as it bubbled on a stovetop in a pub.
He hired British inventor David George Smith to develop the device and the chemical formula it required. Smith is credited as the inventor on the original U.S. Patent 3,387,396 for a “Display Device” filed and assigned to Craven-Walker’s company in 1965, and subsequently issued in 1968.
Craven Walker’s company, Crestworth, was based in Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom. He named the lamp “Astro” and had variations such as the “Astro Mini” and the “Astro Coach” lantern.
In 1965, Adolph Wertheimer and Hy Spector were intrigued by Walker’s product when they saw it at a German trade show. They bought the American rights and began the Lava Manufacturing Corporation in Chicago to sell what they called the Lava Lite Lamp. In the late 1970s, US rights were sold to Larry Haggerty, who created a subsidiary of his company, Haggerty Enterprises, called Lava World International, which produced American lava lamps for over 30 years.
In 2003, American lava lamp maker Lava World International (formerly Lava-Simplex-Scribe Internationale) moved its production to China. In 2008, it was acquired by Talon Merchant Capital and its name was changed to Lava Lite LLC. As of 2016, lava lamps were being sold under Lifespan brands in North America.
In 2018, the ‘Lava Lamp’ brand was acquired by toy and gift maker Schylling Inc. of North Andover, MA. who continue to hold the US trademark rights to both the shape and name of LAVA lamp.
When the American rights were sold, Craven Walker retained the rights for the rest of the world, and took on two business partners in the late 1980s, Cressida Granger and David Mulley. They eventually took over the company and changed its name to Mathmos in 1992. Edward Craven Walker remained a consultant to them until his death in 2000. Mathmos continues to make Lava Lamps and related products. They have won two Queens Awards for Export, and the Best Multi-Media prize at the Design Week awards.
Astro lava lamp was launched in 1963 and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. Mathmos lava lamps are still made in the original factory in Poole, Dorset.
All images remain the copyright of Mathmos Ltd.