Davy Lamps, 1815.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Invented in 1815 by the British chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), the Davy lamp was the first miners' safety lamp. Each lamp consisted of a cylinder of wire gauze containing a wick attached to an oil reservoir and surrounded by an iron frame. Miners worked by the light of candles or other naked flames during the 18th century, but these could ignite 'firedamp', a gas found in deep mines. After an explosion killed 92 men and boys, Davy was asked for his help. The Davy lamp was surrounded by gauze, intended to cool the temperature of the flame, thereby enabling gaseous seams to be mined without the risk of explosion. However, despite many modifications and improvements to its design, it did not succeed in reducing the number of accidents or fatalities.