Davy Lamp

This Davy Lamp from Aberdare is part of our Design and Technology collection.

The flame safety lamp was invented by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1815, to address the problem of explosions caused by naked flames coming in contact with flammable gases in mines. The Davy lamp was fuelled by oil or naptha (lighter fluid), and the wick was contained in a metal gauze cylinder. If the lamp is placed in an explosive atmosphere, such as a mixture of air and methane gas as commonly found in a coal mine, the explosion that takes place when the flame contacts the gas is contained within the gauze mesh and does not cause a danger to the miners.

There were many manufacturers of Davy lamps, and many variations in the detail of their construction. The lamps normally had a cylindrical glass screen around the gauze, and a protective steel bonnet with air inlet holes. Early versions gave out less light than a naked flame candle, but designs improved so that by the 1930's some types were several times brighter than a standard candle flame.

The lamp provided a crude test for the existence of gases, as the flame changed shape or burned with a blue tinge in the presence of flammable gases. In addition, the lamp could be used to check for low oxygen levels or concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide, as in these conditions the lamp flame would be extinguished. The lamp succeeded in reducing the incidence of explosions, but accidents still happened, such as when a lamp was dropped or broken.