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miners lamps history The depth, the dark, and the dangers inherent in mining created a uniquely dangerous working environment for the miner. Miners faced death from collapsing mines, oxygen deprivation, and haulage accidents, with the specter of fatal lung disease remaining even after the miner had left the mines. But the most instantaneous and catastrophic loss of life was caused by explosions due to miner's lamps igniting methane gas. A miner's light was essential to their labor. Without light there was no sight, no work, and no wages. But this essential light was also lethal. Open flames could ignite the inflammable gas especially prevalent in coal mines and mining explosions with hundreds of casualties was a common occurrence in the late 19th and early 20th century. Miners often carried open flames into the mines in the form of candles and hanging lamps, and later wore the open flames of carbide lamps and oil-wick lamps on their caps and helmets.

Saucer-type Open Grease Lamps

The first type of mine light, the open saucer-type grease lamp, was popular in the 1700's and was often decorated with ornamental figures such as roosters. These figures acted as good luck charms for the miner.

Candle Moulds


Before 1850, miners would use candles or small lamps that were hung from crevices or hammered into timbers near their work. From 1850 until around 1915, miner's headgear generally consisted of cloth or canvas hats with leather brims and metal lamp brackets on the forehead that allowed them to hang a source of light on the front of their cap. Caps served the ancillary use of protecting the miner's eyes from smoke or soot and their head from small bumps, but its main purpose was as a mount for their lamps. Later, candles made of hard tallow became a popular source of light within the mines. The candle-holder was adopted for use in the mines as well. It consisted of a 3/8-inch iron rod twisted into a looped handle at one end and a sharpened point at the other. Often there was a hook on the holder and when the point could not be driven into a suitable support, the holder could be hung from any overhang or protrusion in the mine.

Oil Wick Lamps

Around 1850, the oil-wick cap lamp was invented in Scotland. Oil-wick cap lamps were shaped like small kettles-a small font that contained oil fueled a wick that was stuffed into the spout. The oil-wick cap lamp issued a bare flame, giving off enough light for miners to see what was in front of their face, but not much further. The oil-fueled flame was exceedingly smoky, and could easily ignite flammable gasses (mainly methane) found in coal mines. These lamps were worn on soft caps that offered little in the way of protection and were mainly worn for the convenience of having a light source in front of the miner's face. As mining progressed, oil wick lamps became increasingly popular because they were cheaper to burn than tallow candles and easier to balance and


carry in the mines. Manufactured between 1860 and 1920, these lamps differed in size and shape but operated on the same basic principle. A small conical font 1½ to 2½ inches tall and about 1-inch in diameter held the fuel and a hinged snap cap sealed the top. The long neck or spout extended up and outward from one side on the font. Opposite the spout, a wire hook was fastened to the font to fit on a miner's leather or cloth cap. It looked like a small teapot with a brush hanging out the spout. The wick brought the fuel from the font to the tip.

Davy lamp(Carriage Lamps)

The man who made the real breakthrough in this area was Sir Humphry Davy when he invented what is known as the Davy Lamp or a gauze-enclosed lamp. Although gauze alone could not guarantee that the flame would not come into contact with gases outside the screen, Sir Davy reasoned that a metal mesh would cool down the flame before it came into contact with any fire damp. These gases explode at certain temperatures but will extinguish a flame that is cooler. To prevent miners from opening their safety lamp underground, considerable attention was paid to locks. Most safety lamps were equipped with a padlock, keyed setscrews, melted soft-metal locking inserts or magnetic spring-loaded latches. Before the 19th century, this forced miners to use open flames that had the potential to ignite the flammable gasses inside mines, causing lethal explosions. The flammable gas (firedamp) consisted mainly of methane and


was most often found in coal mines. A need was seen to provide a safe light for miners to use in gaseous mines, and several inventors set upon the task independently. The three main progenitors of early safety lamps were Dr. William Reid Clanny, Sir Humphry Davy, and George Stephenson. The first to set upon the idea of a safety lamp was Dr. William Clanny. As a physician in Sunderland, England, Clanny routinely attended to patients injured in mining explosions. In 1813 Clanny revealed his first design for a lamp in a paper to the Royal Philosophical Society. Clanny enclosed the flame in glass with layers of water above and below the flame to "seal in the fire." A bellows supplied oxygen through a tube into the chamber to keep the flame alight. The bellows made this lamp impractical for daily use, and the flame was extinguished when tested in a mixture of inflammable gas. George Stephenson was an English engineer who also began to try to invent a safe lamp in 1815. Through trial and error he came upon a design that worked. He encased the lamp in a glass cylinder, which was capped with a metallic cover with tiny holes. This was covered with a metal bonnet to further remove the flame from the dangers of the flammable gas. The Englishman Sir Humphry Davy was already a scientist and inventor of national renown when he seized upon the idea of a safety lamp in 1815. Davy had performed numerous scientific experiments on all natures of gasses, and this experience proved useful in battling the flammable firedamp found in gaseous mines. Davy’s invention was to surround the flame with a metallic mesh screen. Air could pass through the screen to fuel the flame, but if the holes in the screen were small enough, the mesh would cool the flame to such an extent that it could not ignite the gas surrounding the lamp. This design allowed the Davy lamp to serve as a test for the presences of certain gasses. If firedamp was present, the flame would burn with a blue “cap.” The length of the cap would determine how much gas was present. Some lamps in the collection are these so called “test lamps” with marks in the lamp's glass used to measure the flame’s cap. While flammable gasses were the most prominent threat in mines, asphyxiant gasses also presented a danger. Davy’s safety lamp helped with this issue as well, as miners could use Davy’s lamp to check for harmful concentrations of carbon dioxide, which would extinguish the flame at a non-lethal concentration, alerting the miner’s to unsafe working conditions. Although safety lamps addressed the issue of mining explosions, they did not become as numerous as other mining lights for a variety of reasons. Many miners objected to using safety lamps because they were cumbersome, could not be worn on the cap, and gave a poor light, which all served to reduce a miner’s efficiency. Since most miners were paid by the pound, a reduction in efficiency amounted to a reduction in pay, and so the risk of an


explosion was a chance miners were willing to take. Additionally, many miners objected to the false confidence instilled in many who used a safety lamp, and claimed that safety lamps obscured the real issue of unsafe working conditions and would hinder the development of improved ventilation needed in mines. Safety lamps had one unique advantage—they could safely burn off methane in mines which kept them in use by mine bosses even after the invention of battery-powered lamps. Safety lamps were manufactured by a variety of companies from around 1815 until the 1930s, and incorporated elements of their design from Clanny, Stephenson, and Davy. Most of the safety lamps in the collection of the Division of Work and Industry include all three inventor’s contributions towards a safety lamp—a glass enclosure around the flame for more effective lighting, mesh uppers to cool the flame, and metal bonnet to better protect the flame from being extinguished by gusts or drafts in mines.

Carbide Lamps

Carbide lamps are powered by the reaction of calcium carbide (CaC2) with water (H2O). This reaction produces acetylene gas (C2H2) which burns a clean, white flame. Acetylene gas was originally discovered by Edmund Davy in 1836, but commercial production of calcium carbide only became feasible due to the efforts of Thomas Wilson in 1894. Frederick Baldwin is credited with developing the first carbide mining lamp, holding U.S. Patent number 656,874 for an Acetylene Gas Lamp that was granted August 28, 1900. Commercial production of carbide mining lamps began soon after, and the collection in the Division of Work and Industry reflects a variety of carbide lamp designers and manufacturers including Baldwin, Auto-Lite,


Guy’s Dropper, Shanklin, Dewar, and Wolf. Carbide lamps came in different sizes for different uses, smaller lamps were cap lamps, larger lamps were hand lamps or hanging lamps. The general design of carbide lamps was consistent across designers and manufacturers, with the differences often being improvements to the water-drip mechanism or gas feed. The similarity of lamps was an issue for Frederick Baldwin, who sued many of his competitors for patent infringement. The design of the carbide lamp consists of two chambers—an upper chamber holding water and a lower chamber holding the calcium carbide. Acetylene gas is produced when water from the lamp's upper level encounters the calcium carbide stored in the base via a dripping mechanism. The amount of water flowing into the calcium carbide container can be controlled, with more water producing more gas and a bigger flame when the lamp is lit. The gas is funneled to the burner, where it is lit by a match or a built-in striker. Once the flame is lit, a reflector allows the miner to control the direction of the light. The carbide lamp consisted of several improvements to both the oil-wick lamp and candle as a means for lighting in non-gaseous mines. The lamp produced no carbon monoxide, consumed less oxygen, gave a brighter 4-6 candlepower light, and had a higher light quality than the candles or oil-wick lamps it replaced. The carbide lamp had its problems as well. Average runtime in carbide cap lamps was only about four hours, necessitating a carbide refill mid-shift, which could leave the miner in darkness. The burner tip was also prone to clogging, and concussive blasts or winds inside the mine could extinguish the light as well. The popularity of carbide mining lamps was short–lived, as electric battery powered lamps came into favor around 1918 due to their superior light, safety, and runtime, and had almost completely replaced carbide lamps by the 1930s. In 1892, while working with lime, coal tar and a carbon mixture, Major James T. Morehead and Thomas L. Willson developed a brownish-grey substance that gave off a pungent smelling gas when mixed with water. This gas burned with a bright yellow-white flame and they called it acetylene. Within eight years the first carbide lamp was offered to the public.

Carbide Cap Lamps


The first carbide cap lamps weighed approximately four ounces and were four inches high and 1 ½ inches in diameter. The lamp consisted of two compartments that screwed together. The upper part contained water whose flow into the lower chamber containing the carbide, was controlled by a drip valve. A three-inch reflector directed a light of ten-foot candle power and was a great improvement over the tallow candle.

Electric Lamps

The early years of the 20th century were some of the deadliest years in the recorded history of mining in the United States as the demands of an industrializing society created increased demands for coal. In 1909 20 coal mine disasters were recorded, the most on record. In 1910, 25 mine disasters (metal/nonmetal and coal) were recorded. The Monongah Coal mine in West Virginia was the site of the largest coal mine disaster in U.S. history in 1907 with 362 deaths recorded. This disaster prompted Congress to create


the U.S. Bureau of Mines as an attempt to improve working conditions across the country. It was these mounting disasters that prompted mine engineer John T. Ryan Sr. and George H. Deike to found the Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA) in 1914. They enlisted Thomas Edison to help them create a dependable and safe electric cap lamp. Electricity had been available in homes for years, but the application of electric lighting in mines was a harder proposition due to the extensive wiring costs. The solution to this problem was a rechargeable battery pack designed by Edison. The Edison Cap Lamp consisted of a battery encased in a self-locking steel case worn on the miner’s belt. A flexible cord traveled to the cap lamp, and its entrance into the battery was protected by a flexible steel cover. The battery could power a six-candlepower lamp for 12 hours and was recharged at the end of a miner’s shift. Safety measures in the bulb included an immediate disconnect of the electrical contacts if the bulb was broken that cooled the tungsten filament to such a degree that it would not ignite any flammable gasses in the air. The MSA Company later manufactured helmets optimized for the Edison Cap Lamp featuring a mount in the front for the lamp and a guide in the back for the cable, allowing the miner to move around freely without any encumbrance from the wire running from the battery to the bulb. Bullard “Hard Boiled” mining helmets also included a leather mount that could accommodate either a carbide lamp or an electric lamp, with a cord guide on the hat’s reverse. An example of this cap lamp can be seen to the left. Before safety regulations required helmets, miners wore electric lamps on both their canvas caps and hard helmets. A portable lamp is composed of two parts, the battery which furnishes the current, and the bulb. The bulb was perfected quickly but the battery was troublesome. In fact, none of the early experimental lamps proved successful, as the bulb required too heavy a battery. Also, leakage of acid was a serious problem. Today, the cap lamp uses a non-spillable battery and a parabolic reflector equipped with safety features that hooks onto the miner's cap. Electric lamps came on market around the year1902 and have a lifespan of approximately five years. The dawn of the electric lamp allowed the miner to work in any position without restraint, as it did not interfere with the free motion of the body. Lamphouses at the various collieries had facilities for charging, cleaning, and filling both electric lamps and oil safety lamps.


LED miners cap lamps

After keeping on improving, CORDLESS2 from WISDOM has been to be the most advanced cordless cap lamp. It is much lighter, brighter and more reliable. Super-light: Cordless2 is much smaller and lighter. The lightest one is only 128g lighter than iPone4S; Super-bright: Cordless2 applies the most advanced Panasonic 18650 battery and CREE light source. Super-reliable: Cordless2 has been approved by IP68 which is very difficult to reach. And it means that CORDLESS2 is workable underwater 50m. Super-safe: Cordless2 has been approved by ATEX95 which proves that it is absolutely explosion proof and impact resistant and it is workable in the high-danger working environments. Besides, it has approved by MSHA which is thrown in 6 feet for 20 times. And WISDOM is the first one to be approved by MSHA in Asia.


Miners lamps history  
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