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Lava Lamps Turn 50, Still Psychedelic, and British

First Posted: Sep 03, 2013 01:51 PM EDT
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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the lava lamp, those glowing, liquid-y, plasma-like decorations that have lit up homes since the '60s.

The lava lamp made its debut in England on a Tuesday 50 years ago. Edward Craven-Walker, a British inventor, created the lamp. His inspiration came as from an egg timer filled with liquid that Craven-Walker spotted in a southwest Britain pub.

Craven-Walker, a former World War II pilot, subsequently spent years trying to transform the design of the egg timer into a lighting accessory. His idea did not seem so farfetched in 1960s Britain, where minds were quite open.

"Everything was getting a little bit psychedelic," Christine Baehr, the second of Craven-Walker's four wives, said. "There was Carnaby Street and The Beatles and things launching into space, and he thought it was quite funky and might be something to launch into."

Back then, the lava lamp appealed to England's "Love Generation," as they were commonly known. This hippie generation was characterized by carefree living, free love, unpredictability and drug experimentation.

The first company to produce the lava lamp called the lamp an "exotic conversation piece" when it was first made in 1963.

Today, the lava lamp has sold millions in various models and imitations.

Craven-Walker's first prototype was called the Astro Lamp. It had the same rocket-shaped design as popular lava lamps today. The Astro Mini and the Astro Nordic came after as Craven-Walker continued to build on his invention.

Mathmos, a lava lamp production company, still has a factory in southwest Britain where they continue to use Craven-Walker's lava lamp formula.

"I think it's really special to manufacture something that's been invented and made in Britain, in Britain for 50 years," Cressida Granger, said.

Granger became involved with Crestworth, the first company to make lava lamps, in 1989. In 1992, Granger renamed the company Mathmos. She gained sole ownership in 1999.

The rights to produce lava lamps in the United States are held by Haggerty Enterprises Inc. in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

The lava lamp made a strong comeback in the '90s, when retro-British trends were all the rage.

"I think it's the motion within the lamp," said Anthony Voz, a Mathmos products collector. "The way that it flows, how it's anti-repetitive, how it's a mixture of light and chaos blending together. It kind of pulls people in, and before you know it, you've spent 15 minutes looking at it."

Craven-Walker, who also happened to be a nudist, died in 2000.

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