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Safety Evolution of Lamps

Mining lamps have gone through a long evolution. With improvements in fuel and production techniques, over time, not only did lamps became much safer, their overall appearance and the use they were put to changed a great deal. Below you will find five 3D models of mining lamps. Explore them to discover how their safety features evolved over time.

Feel free to zoom in and observe closely!


It is not clear when this lamp was invented, but oil-wick lamps have appeared around 1850 in Scotland (Mining Lights and Hats, n.d.). The Frosch Lamp was barely used in the Dutch mines because of safety issues, according to Raetsen and Claessens (2017). The oil in the lamp was supplied directly to the wick, creating an open flame that could ignite flammable gases in the mine, causing an explosion (Raetsen & Claessens, 2017). This could happen at any moment, which is why using the lamp in the mine was seen as a Russian Roulette. After the invention of Davy Lamp, which did not have an open flame, Frosch Lamp was rarely used.

3D model created by Anna Bashuk


In 1815, Sir Humphry Davy introduced prototypes of the Davy Lamp (The Royal Institution, n.d.). It was also an oil lamp, but it included a few safety features. According to The Royal Institution (n.d.), the final design of the lamp featured a little basket made of copper around the flame. This basket had holes to let the light through, at the same time absorbing the heat. As a result, the flame did not heat up flammable gases in the mines, thus preventing explosions (The Royal Institution, n.d.). The protective mesh covered a large part of the lamp, making it much safer compared to its predecessor, the Frosch lamp.

3D model created by Ruqin Hu


Around 1900, the first petrol lamp was invented (Raetsen & Claessens, 2017). According to Raetsen and Claessens (2017), gas lamps were not only safer, but brighter and easier to light up. This lamp had a “chatter igniter” that worked as follows: the miner would stroke the gear using a slip of paper with sulfur on it, creating a spark (Raetsen & Claessens, 2017). The lamp also contained a safety mechanic for gas detection: when flammable gases were present in the mines, a blue “cap” would appear above the flame (The Royal Institution, n.d.). The size of this cap would help estimate the amount of gas present.

3D model created by Aniek van den Brandt


In the 1930s, there was no longer a need to use petrol to fuel the lamps because batteries were becoming increasingly popular (Raetsen & Claessens, 2017). Potlamps had two main improvements compared to petrol lamps: not only they created more light, but they were also safer since they did not require the use of flammable fuel (Raetsen & Claessens, 2017). As can be seen from the 3D model on the right, these lamps consisted of two parts: the lower part, where the battery was located, and the upper part with a reflector and a light bulb protected by a glass cover.

3D model created by Thiago Minete Cardozo


From 1950 on, petlamps were the most common lamps used in the mines, because they were lighter, more convenient, and more portable than previous lamps (Raetsen & Claessens, 2017). According to Raetsen and Claessens (2017), petlamps worked on a battery and could last up to 14 hours, so the workers would charge them overnight and take them back to the mine the following day. The petlamp made the miners’ lives much easier. As can be seen from the 3D model on the left, the lamp could be attached to the helmet, which meant the miners had both hands free to work.

3D model created by Thiago Minete Cardozo

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