Two Hundred Years Ago Today …

… saw the first successful test of a Davy Lamp, a safety lamp for use in flammable atmospheres that consists of a wick lamp with the flame enclosed inside a mesh screen that acts as a flame arrestor. The idea is that air (and firedamp) can pass through the mesh freely enough to support combustion, but the holes are too fine to allow a flame to propagate through them and ignite any firedamp (like methane) outside of the lamp.

While this lamp, designed to decrease accidents by preventing explosions that would maim or kill miners when there was an abundance of methane or other combustible gasses, actually increased mine accidents (as miners believed it was now safe to work in parts of the mine that had previously been closed for safety reasons), successors did eventually increase mine safety and allow mines to be worked more safely (when the lamps, such as the Protector Garforth GR6S flame safety lamp, are properly used).

When the lamp was first released, miners believed they could work in sections of the mine that had unsafe levels of methane because the lamp would not ignite the methane. This was true only insofar as the lamp was not damaged, but, in the original design, the bare gauze was easily damaged and the lamp became unsafe as soon as a single wire broke or rusted. Plus, because the mine owners thought the safety lamps were enough, they did not install proper ventilation to keep methane levels down (which would have prevented methane explosions from slightly damaged lamps).

But, eventually, legal requirements for legal air quality and safety lamp improvements made mining safe, and the raw materials we all depend upon to create our products became easier to mine and supply became more predictable. While the Davy Lamp may have been a bump in the road, it was an important invention on the road to modern mining.