Humprhy Davy's miners' safety lamp

Contributed by Faraday Museum - Royal Institution

Humprhy Davy's miners' safety lamp

In the 19th century mining was a very dangerous business: miners had only basic tools and worked by open candle flame. Down the coal mines there were places where there was a high concentration of methane gas which would explode when it came into contact with the heat from a flame.

In 1815, after many miners were killed in several explosions in north-east England, Humphry Davy was asked if he could make a light for miners which would be safe to use. He spent two months in the Royal Institution laboratories, working intensively on the problem. He tried various methods before realising that if metal gauze was put around the flame, the light could still pass through the holes but the gauze would absorb the heat. It was no longer hot enough to ignite the gas. His prototype lamp is shown above.

The new safety lamp was immediately put into production and deaths were dramatically reduced. But, while the safety lamp meant that there was no longer such a threat from explosions, it also meant that mines could be dug deeper than ever which meant they were still very dangerous places to work.

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