Monday, April 18, 2016

Shedding a Little Light on this Mystery Artifact

I thought I might stump our readers with this week's mystery artifact, but we got a correct answer from Brent on Facebook! Thanks to everyone for their guesses.

This is a head lamp! As in the kind that is worn on one’s head(not the car kind), and it was mainly used by miners. So, essentially, it is a very old version of this:

This kind of lamp is also sometimes called a teapot lamp (for the teapot-like shape), a sunshine lamp (for “Sunshine Wax,” a specific type of fuel made of paraffin wax mixed with oil) or an oil-wick lamp. The oil of the “oil-wick” goes in the center part of this lamp, and a wick would be inserted in the spout-like part of the lantern. And, as it is a head lamp, you might ask, “how does it go on your head?” Well, the hook on the back of the lamp hooks onto a hat or helmet. That would look a little like this:

The first kinds of lighting in mines were candles or small lamps that were usually affixed to timbers or walls near where there were working. Since this didn’t always give precise illumination miners needed, candles were sometimes also affixed to hats. Eventually, oil lamps were created to fill these needs.

The long spike was jabbed into the wood of support beams or crevices in the wall. The hook is for hanging on a hat.
The oil lamps  burned brighter than candles did, and they were easier to carry around while working. However, the burning of the wick also created much more smoke than the candles had, which could make working in a small space very difficult. Also, the open flame was susceptible to igniting flammable gasses inside the mines. This could cause explosions, which often had disastrous consequences.

Eventually, a new type of lamp, the carbide lamp, became more popular for the fact that it consumed less oxygen and provided cleaner, brighter light. These lamps had two chambers inside, one with water and the other filled with calcium carbide. When these substances mixed, they created a flammable gas which burned with a clean white flame. They usually looked like this:

The reflective surface made the flame even more effective.

 Even carbide lamps were short-lived, since battery-powered, electric lamps soon became widespread, and were much safer (since there isn’t the nasty problem of having an open flame anymore). If you want to know more about mining lights and hats, here's a site all about them from the National Museum of American History.

Thanks again for your guesses! And as always, come visit us, check out our exhibits and take a look at the mystery artifacts if you do! 

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