The history of the lava lamp began in a pub in Hampshire, England, with a very unusual egg timer.
In the 1940s, one Edward Craven-Walker walked into the aforementioned pub and saw a strikingly odd object on the counter behind the bar. It was a glass cocktail shaker containing some kind of mucus-like blob floating in liquid. Mr Craven-Walker made enquiries, and was told by the barman that the device was an egg timer. The 'blob' was actually a clump of solid wax in clear liquid.
How did this “time” your egg, wondered Mr Craven-Walker? The barman elaborated:
“You put the shaker in the boiling water with your egg, and as the boiling water cooks the egg it also melts the wax turning it into an amorphous blob of goo.”
When the wax floated to the top of the jar, the egg was done. Mr Craven-Walker was very impressed by what he saw and he began to wonder - could he turn the egg timer into a lamp with thicker oil that would form sculptural shapes? Would this be a viable commercial product?
The inventor of the blobby egg timer, somebody called Dunnet, was deceased, so Craven-Walker was able to patent the invention for himself. The Astro/Lava Lamp was finally released in 1963. Craven-Walker had spent fifteen years perfecting the design.
In the hippy-trippy Summer of Love in 1967, the lamp gained great popularity - mainly with trendies and people experimenting with mind-expanding drugs.
In the early 1970s, the lamp became deeply naff. It was seen on the serving hatch at Stan and Hilda Ogden’s in Coronation Street - a sure sign of its complete and utter non-trendiness, and then Mildred Roper acquired one in George & Mildred.
Oh dear! My mother, middle aged and with absolutely lousy taste, bought one and we spent the evenings trying to avoid looking at something that resembled a blob of orange liver in yellow bile floating up and down.
At our local pub, which was all plastic beaten copper tables and “genuine” olde Englishe horse brasses, a lava lamp suddenly appeared. Frumpy Nellie and Fred, the mine hosts, were thrilled with the thing and became a bit of a laughing stock amongst right-minded regulars.
Finally, the lava lamp’s fascination for (a minority of) 30 and 40-somethings evaporated, and by 1980 they were just about dead and gone.
C. 1988, the awful blobby shapes associated with lava lamps appeared in a couple of pop videos. The new drug culture of the Acid House/Rave era seemed happy to embrace a couple of icons from the original Summer of Love. The lava lamp was one, the Smiley Face was another. Not that 1988 seemed like a second Summer of Love to me. It was faster and more streetwise - “Right on one, matey!” but, as we moved into the 1990s, 1960s trends became more and more “in” and lava lamp sales boomed.
Apparently more lava lamps were sold in the 1990s than in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s combined.