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1970s Fads: Lava Lamp

By Patrick Mondout

The Lava Lamp was a product of the psychedelic 60s, but was also quite popular in the Super70s. Its inventor was Edward Craven Walker of Britain, an eccentric nudist who had previously made movies promoting the "bare essentials" and who founded several nudist colonies. Walker was born in Singapore in 1918 and later flew reconnaissance missions for the RAF (Royal Air Force) during WWII.

Seeing the Light

No invention is created in a vacuum -- though some are inspired by a pint or two in a pub. Walker is said to have been inspired by a "blob light"  he saw in his local pub in 1963. It was fashioned out of old tins and a glass cocktail shaker which contained a mixture of oil and water heated by a light bulb in the bottom. When he inquired about its inventor, he was told that a Mr. Dunnett had created it, but that he was dead. He set out to make a better version of the light while focusing on a more attractive element to replace the oil. He believed the right material would result in more interesting shapes and he was certainly right about that. Those who saw his first lamps called them vulgar and he later called the Lava Lamp "...a sexy thing."

Have Lava, Will Travel

Adolph Wertheimer, an American businessman, notice the Walker's Astrolight at a show in Hamburg, Germany in 1965 and was immediately impressed. This was the perfect lamp for a generation seemingly obsessed with all things psychedelic and he knew it. Walker himself was quoted as saying, "If you buy my lamp, you won't need drugs." Werthheimer and his partner Hy Spector (see feedback from his daughter here) bought the U.S. distribution rights in 1966, renamed it the Lava Lite Lamp, and began generating a fortune by selling millions of them. These original American Lava Lites were produced in Chicago and had a gold base with white or red lava in yellow or blue liquid. The rest is cultural history.

A New Life for an Old Lite

As the popularity of the Lava Lite Lamp dimmed in the Awesome80s, Walker sold his European rights to a 22-year old former art student named Cressida Granger. At the time, Granger was running a small antiques business in the Camden Market area of London. She had purchased a few lava lamps at a Glasgow market and, when they quickly sold at her store, she tracked down Walker and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. She founded a company name Mathmos to market the lamps to a whole new generation and had impressive sales of over $25M in 1999.

Giant Lava Lamp

The town of Soap Lake, Washington was considering a $25M, 60-foot-high lava lamp in 2002 in order to draw tourists, but decided against it as economic conditions caused the town to cut back on services.

Where Are They Now?

Edward Craven Walker, the inventor of the lava lamp, died of cancer on August 15, 2000, at age 82. The Lava lamp itself is doing quite well. Sales of up to 400,000 a year have been reported. The offices of Super70s.com would not be the same without our lava lamp. "I think it will always be popular,'' Walker once said. "It's like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down, and then starts all over again.''

 

 

Share Your Memories!

Do you have any interesting or amusing stories to tell about 1970s Fads: Lava Lamp? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"It was sooo cool!! I'm 15 and a couple years ago I asked my mom for a lava lamp. Her jaw just dropped. She couldn't believe kids still wanted them after all these years. She told me she used to have one when she was a teenager and today I still watch mine every night before falling asleep."

--Anonymous

"I'm a mother of twins and I'm a Super70s freak. I put my babies to sleep at night with the lava lamp - it really relaxes them."

--butterfly

"I can remember shooting pool in my best friends pool room, getting stoned and jammin' to some Rush or Kiss, but somehow we would all end up sitting in the corner of the room where the lava lamp was talking about how our day went and tring to figure out what the hell we were going to do when we finished high school . I am 40 years old now and if I could I would give (ALMOST) anything to sit by that lave lamp just one more time."

--JWCorley1701

"My room is green and purple and I have a purple lava lamp and dress in bell bottoms with beaded necklaces. My mom calls me a hippie, but my lava lamp is the coolest. I wish I was in the Super70s!!!"

--Lil Lavender Fairy

"In my days a lava lamp was very sexy. We would always go to are so called love shack and hang out. It was very hip to have one. It was as popular as my pet rock. All the hippies had it."

--Ms. Oldfield

"My brother got a lava lamp for Christmas one year and I was very jealous. Looking back now I have no idea why except that it was great to look at and even better when you listen to old Led Zeppelin records. I soon found out that they break so easy {they get all foggy and only work when they want to}. To make up for it my mom bought my one of those lights that spins and is so groovy."

--TT


 

FAD FACTS

Lava Lamps faded in popularity in the Awesome80s, but made a comeback in the late 90s.


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