The Astro Lava Lamp was created by Edward Craven Walker. In 1963 after 15 years of work to perfect the system and develop the secret combination of liquids.
Born in Singapore in 1918. Edward Craven-Walker became a pilot for the Royal Air Force during World War II. Flying a DeHavilland Mosquito over Germany to take reconnaissance photographs from an unarmed plane. Soon after the war ended Edward visited a Dorset pub where he saw an unusual device behind the bar.
Alfred done it.
The odd item shaped like a glass cocktail shaker containing two immiscible fluids was described as an egg timer by the barman. The barman explained it needed to be stood in a pan of boiling water with an egg, as the water boils the wax substance melts slowly and floats to the top. When all the wax substance has melted the egg is cooked. Legend has it that the egg timer device was created by a pub regular called Alfred Dunnett. I wonder if that was a Mr Alfred Dunnett from Dorset or simply a barman stating that “Alfred dun it” either way the man had died so couldn’t be traced to find out more.
The contraption behind the bar captured Edwards imagination. Ever the eccentric inventor and entrepreneur, Edward saw potential in the device, but wanted to modify it so the the fluid would cycle and shape sculpturally, and operate as a lamp.
After many attempts to perfect his lamp and some 15 years experimenting with all manner of bottles, substances and lamps. Edward finally realised his dream in 1963. Based on the shape of an orange bottle he liked and containing a cocktail of liquids the first Astro Lava Lamp was launched through his Crestworth company.
The lamps were an instant hit and became one of the defining products of the swinging ‘60s appearing in cult TV series ”The Prisoner” and “Dr.Who”.
Edward and his wife Christine Craven-Walker ran the business very successfully through the 1960s and ‘70s. Edward and his wife Christine eventually wanted to retire so they teamed up with young entrepreneurs Cressida Granger and David Mulley in 1989.
A new lava lamp generation
Over a period of years Granger and Mulley bought the business from the Craven-Walkers and successfully launched the lava lamp to a new generation. During this time and as part of the relaunch Granger and Mulley renamed the company Mathmos in 1992. The word taken from the cult 1960s film Barbarella, refers to the lake of evil slime beneath the city Sogo. It is also said that the name might also originate from Swedish, literally meaning “mashed food”.
Millions of lava lamps were manufactured in Dorset in the 1990s and sold throughout the world gaining a host of business and marketing awards including two Queens Awards for Export.
Mathmos are still going strong today and still sell the original models, but innovation is also at the heart of what they do. New lines include a range of LED colour changing and rechargeable lights, plus new lighting technologies such as Airswitch technology that enables the user to operate the lamp by moving a hand above the lamp.
All in all a great British product from a great British company, all spawned from the mind of an eccentric inventor with a penchant for naturism and a passion for innovation … not to mention the odd Dorset pub.