A brief history of light…
From the discovery of fire to the illumination of the night…
It’s been a while since our last blog post, and so with the new year 2019, we hope to set it off to good start!
From the still red embers of fire discovered in the darkness of the past to the dazzling bright future of illumination from LED’s and beyond; fire, burning torch, oil lamp, candle, the innovation of batteries and utilisation in lights. It’s been an interesting journey to get to today’s point of progress.
And then there was fire.
It’s been a while, and no one really knows how fire was discovered, and I suppose it depends who you speak to. Whether Prometheus stole the fire from the Gods to give a flaming torch to man, or if there was a forest fire caused by lightning that some clever proto-human managed to salvage a flaming piece of wood from. It’s difficult to know how things went, but according to “English Heritage” around 120,000 years ago the secret of fire was discovered independantly around the world, however according to the History Channel and Science Daily caves have been found in South Africa that are 1 million years old with proof that fire was tamed and used by the hominin humans that were living there.
Fire was literally light, life and power! So to harness this was very important to humans becoming what they are today.
The next steps…
The natural progression of wanting to see in the dark, to keep warm and/or to keep predators away meant the transferring of fire from place to place was nessassary if not extremely important to remaining alive. Especially when humans discovered the joy of cooking their food.
So, humans had to initially learn how to transport their fire from one location to another and then the innovation of creating a fire itself. Which was probably found while using flint hammers against rocks (see the history of hammers on this blog); creating sparks and setting dry kindling on fire.
You may have seen old films where the hominin people just happened to live next to tar pits where fires rage, the hominin dips some fabric into the tar with a branch of wood so and it instantly ignites this new firey torch to illuminate the night. According to Wikipedia and other sources clothes were first worn around 170,000 years ago; although clothes, fabrics, hides and animals skins wouldn’t have survived through till now. So there’s no definitive evidence of when torches like this could have been created. So the earliest we can say that torches could have been made is 170,000 years ago.
Something more illuminating..
So man and fire where united and unleashed on the world.
Fire creating cooked food, heat, warmth and a safe environment for all the tribe. Over time these early people became more expert with fire, and how they used and controlled it. Cooking food had usable side products including fats, tallows waxes and oils when used with a wick would last much longer and be more controllable than the large firey torches. Which brings me to the oil lamp which was first seen 70,000 years ago according to the history of lamps website, probably first used with cut out wood, shells or stone. Then refined later on with the advent of pottery (4,000BC), bronze (1,500BC), Iron (800BC) and other containers became more widespread and better designed
These oil burners became widespread through-out the ancient world from Greece, Rome to Egypt. Along with the later oil burners the candle makes an appearance around for 1,000BC with wicked candles. Unfortunately because of the nature of candles there’s little evidence remaining of when exactly candles were first used and created, although there are bronze, iron and other candle holders through to the present day. Gradually become widespread throughout the world to be the main source of light until the early 1800’s.
The death of the candle and the oil lantern in the home was heralded with the widespread installation of gas heating and lighting. However this didn’t mean the end of the storm lamp/lantern when needing a torch to light your way in open country or anywhere without street lighting
A revolution of batteries…
With the revolution of the battery in 1887, quickly industry wanted to utilise this incredible new harnessed power! With many new innovations and designs, the now familiar handheld torch (flashlight) was created in 1899 and became a public success! This were called flashlights because they couldn’t keep the light on for too long or the torch would get hot, burn out the bulb or just stop working! This basic model used 3 battery cells to shed very little light in a wide scattered beam using a polished brass reflector, using a contact switch to active the torch.
After the first world war by the 1920’s the design of the torch developed with the arrival of better quality battery technology, better more economical bulbs, thinner glass lens and a better reflecting lens. Making a more popular, more user friendly, easier to use and a higher quality product. Notably the Rayovac flashlight which is significantly brighter and more ergonomic than the earlier torches.
Another war and the invention of the transistor changed the torch again; although it had the same old familiar design externally, it revolutionised the all the internal components. Gradually miniaturising, improving and re-designing the torch. Initially made of steel, brass or other metals, these newer torches were gradually made out of bakelite, rubber and finally plastics. All the way through to the late 1970’s where plastic was the most material a torch was made out of.
Progress came fast and furious with the end of the 80’s with improvements in battery cell technology; today using Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium ion. With light bulbs; today using LED’s or HID’s shedding thousands of lumens of light without the heat created of the incandescent or halogen bulbs. Utilising electronics rather than wires making electrical contacts much more efficient.
Although aesthetically is essentially the same all put together makes a quantum leap from the 5 or so candle power (65 lumens) and only having 10 minutes of ‘on’ time of the first torch, to the modern torch supplying 3,200 lumens for 40minutes in only 110 years.
The future of the torch is definitely getting brighter!