An Invention that Lit the Way to Safety!

Cobalt Fairy

How are you my ladies and gents

Welcome back for another trip down history lane (you see what I did here)! I know how much you love those titbits of history and I honestly can’t get enough of them! 

But this time it’s personal, so let me explain more. 

You don’t know that, but my grandfather used to be a coal miner. And I think I don’t need to stress enough the danger levels of that profession… Well long story short, one day there was a terrible accident and he never made it back, God rest his poor soul! 

So you see, I am quite sensitive about miners and all documentaries about them always strike home. And last time I read about the mines of 19th century England, I was amazed at the conditions and danger those people would put themselves in to make ends meet. And they were far worse than the ones during my grandfather’s time to be sure!

As many of you might already know, the striking majority of miners’ deaths was “firedamp”. In essence, they used candles to light their way in, but as soon as an explosive gas was released, the candle’s fire caused a huge explosion killing everyone in the mine.

In 1812, a terrible mine explosion that killed 92 men and boys was the event that caught society’s attention and called for an urgent solution. 

And this is when Humphry Davy comes to the picture! Literally.

So before we talk about what the man did, let’s talk about who the man is: 

Sir Humphry Davy was born in Penzance in 1778 and became a star of the Royal Society as soon as he moved to London in 1801. Why? Well the man was such a genius with chemistry and electricity that he was appointed a knight in 1812! 

And apparently he was also very fun at parties, as he was also the inventor of the “laughing gas” aka Nitrous Oxide.

Well maybe for some, sharing your experiments with your friends and family might be a bad idea, but not for Davy! Not only did he test it on himself, but he always carried a box with Nitrous Oxide with him at social gatherings. They sure had a good laugh, but I kinda think he was a bit addicted to it! 

So anyway, he was the Accident Prevention Society’s only hope when they contacted him in 1815. Because with the help of Michael Faraday (yes, he was his assistant!), they came up with a lamp that saved millions of lives! 

Even though he got in a legal dispute with his rival, George Stephenson, as he accused Davy of stealing his idea, Davy refused to patent the lamp, proving that fame was the last thing he wanted.

Well, it did make him a Baron in 1818 and president of the Royal Society in 1820 though, but I still don’t think that was his main goal. 

So how did his lamp save millions of lives? Take a look at it first!

At first glance, this looks like an average lamp, but it had a peculiarity. We’re getting a bit technical here people, but we need to understand how it works to appreciate it. 

According to the Royal Institution, it simply was a basic lamp with a wire gauze chimney enclosing the flame. The holes let light pass through, but the metal of the gauze absorbs the heat.  The lamp is safe to use because the flame can’t heat enough flammable gas to cause an explosion, although the flame would turn blue around methane and back to normal around oxygen.

His lamp became widely used in 1816 and as I said, it not only saved millions of lives, but it also allowed miners to go deeper in the mines, increasing the amount of coal produced! 

Now this is what I call science in the service of man!

How did you like today’s history bit? 

I would love to see what you thought of this man and his inventions!

Written byViolet Hamers!

Source: The Royal Institution

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