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Archive for June 15th, 2016

Originally published in the Pacific Coast Bulletin, June 14, 1922

Edison Battery-Powered Cap Lamp. Note the “Permissible” stamp on the battery case from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. (Photo from The National Museum of American History.)

Edison Battery-Powered Cap Lamp. Note the “Permissible” stamp on the battery case from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. (Photo from The National Museum of American History.)

Today we take the miner’s safety lamp for granted, but it wasn’t so many years ago that many miners actually worked in the dark rather than risk an explosion by carrying open lights into dangerous measures underground.

Other labored by the feeble light of a shower of sparks thrown off by revolving a steel wheel against flint, until this method, too, caused an explosion which resulted in loss of life.

The colliery operators of England seemed powerless to cope with the danger, and the life of the industry appeared to be threatened. But after the disastrous Felling disaster of 1815, Sir Humphrey Davy, the noted British scientist, became interested, and after a series of experiments submitted to the Royal Society of London a suggestion for a safety lamp.

This lamp, afterward called the Davy Lamp, was accepted by the British government, and adopted generally by miners.

The later history of mine lighting is one long story of experiments in improving the Davy Lamp, and, in more recent years, of creating a type that would be easily portable and effective.

The chief stumbling block was, of course, the production of the necessary current for its operation, and many schemes were tried out before Mr. Edison invented a practical form of alkaline battery, leading to the adoption of the Edison Electric Safety Mine Lamp, now exclusively used in all the mines of the Pacific Coast Coal Company, with the exception of Issaquah.

At Issaquah conditions are such that open lights can be carried with perfect safety, and there carbide lamps are used.

The lamps carried by coal miners today would have been looked upon as marvelous a few generations ago, as the radio is now.

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