lava lampDig That Lava Lamp

If you use my lamp you won’t need drugs. -- Craven Walker, inventor of the Lava Lamp

It was the ultimate baby boomer fad. Put on Ravi Shankar. Load up the hash pipe (or not). Kill the lights. Flick on the lava lamp and be transported to a bizarre, mesmerizing world of infinite gyration and transformation. Far out.

For years, he sat at his favorite pub guzzling Guinness and gazing at a crude but fascinating liquid-motion contraption made by a mysterious, long decreased Mr. Dunnett. It took Craven Walker 15 years to figure out the correct ooze mixture and physics to perfect a marketable version, dubbed Astro Lamp. It gathered dust on English store shelves.

Trolling a German trade show in 1965, two Chicago entrepreneurs saw the light. Those crazy globs of flowing wax might be a perfect fit for the new hippie music culture. Renamed lava lamp and brought to baby boomer America, it undulates to instant success. A short-lived pop culture fad, yes, but at its peak over seven million in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors were sold lava lamp works

“How does it swirl around like that, man?” boomers marveled. The exact formula and methods of motion remained top secret. Employees signed a confidentiality agreement. Since the action of the dollops is unpredictable, lava lamps have an aura of mystery and uniqueness — no two are ever the same.

Craven brushed aside mocking disapproval of his invention, accusing critics of being “afraid of sex.” He waxed poetic on the wax: “It’s like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down, and starts all over again.”

As the baby boomer counterculture waned in the 1970s, so did lava lamp sales. Time for the next great collectibles fad.

Trivia Factoids

A lava lamp is on permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian.

There is an active market in vintage lava lamps on eBay. Baby boomers are the principle collectors.

Terry Hamburg writes the Baby Boomer Daily about the exciting and revolutionary baby boomer years.

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