Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

Donald Dunnet - Original Lava Lamp Inventor - Prototypes, Construction details & History.

Hi,

Hopefully with this post I can provide a comprehensive background on the story of Donald and his invention. Donald was my great grandfather and between my father and aunt we have tried to piece together the history of his involvement with the lava lamp. I have thoroughly researched the internet for any mention of him but unfortunately most of it is either vague, incomplete or inaccurate as he is often incorrectly named as 'Alfred Dunnett'. However we did come across some facts that we were not aware of and were surprised by some of the information that is out there. Here I collect together images, memories and other documents that will hopefully give a better understanding.

A note from my father:

'Hello, I'm the grandson of the part time inventor Donald Dunnet who had a patent on the lava lamp in the 50's. My sister wrote an article on this site a while ago and mentioned a photo we were trying to find of lava lamp testing in Donald's workshop. It's included here and as you can see there are several different styles with the one on the far left clearly working well. The date on the back of the photo is Easter 1960.

 

I've also added notes from a pad Donald had written some details about his lamps, including details about the bulbs. As far as we are aware there is no more surviving information or prototypes etc, as we were told that when he died (sometime in the early/mid sixties) his widow, who apparently had little interest in his inventions, unfortunately had his workshop completely cleared.

Also included is a picture of Donald on The BBC Inventors Club demonstrating another of his inventions. In the 60's we had at home one of Donald's last lamps which worked really well and was well developed, quite far removed from his original 'egg timer' based design from the early 50's. From memory it used a Grant's whiskey bottle with Red lava and sat on a smart matt black base. Another unfortunate decision was made when my father threw it away in the 90's because the original fluid inside had broken down. He didn't realise it could have been refilled. Luckily my memory of its design is quite good and I'am looking forward to hopefully producing a replica of this lamp at some point in the near future.'

Donald's hand written wrote isn't particularly easy to read so we've included a 'translation':

'This Lantern may take an hour or so to get going from cold. Bulb is for 230v if local voltage is less fit 40W ball bulb. Arrange about eye level with red mark on bottle neck to the front and for a background use blue as per sample. Do not overheat or have on longer than necessary. Note - Base gets rather warm.'

Interestingly there is also another very similar original note with some additional information/differences to the previous as highlighted. Here is what it said:

'Winchester Half Gall Lantern'

'The lantern may take an hour or so to get hot from cold. Possibly longer the first time. Bulb is for 230v if local voltage is less fit 60w lamp. Red mark on bottle neck to the front and tilt bottle forward for a moment [appears to read: 'to bring ring'] at bottom to the front above the bulb filament. Note base gets rather warm.'

Whilst searching on the internet I came across an interesting letter written to the Independent newspaper, published on the 19th of july 2011 which reads:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/letters-hacking-scandal...

'The light behind the lava lamp

In the lava lamp article in Viewspaper (15 July), your writer refers to the inventor of the lamp; his death before 1960 enabled Craven-Walker to patent the lamp as his own.

The inventor was, I believe, a Scot called Donald Dunnett, a motor engineer and colleague of my late father in the London and Lancashire Insurance Company, which was taken over by the Royal Insurance Company, now part of Royal and Sun Alliance. Mr Dunnett lived in Burgh Heath, Surrey and in his spare time interested himself in gadgets.

One I remember was a form of sweeper to clean the bottom of the local swimming pool. This would have been in the late 1940s. He had two daughters, who, if still alive would be in their seventies. Though Mr Dunnett had no formal claim to be the inventor of the lava lamp, it would be a pity if he were entirely lost to posterity.

Martin Best

Newcastle upon Tyne'

Just to point out a few inaccuracies we are confident that Donald actually passed away sometime between 1960-1964. (I will look further into this to be sure if I can) Also Donald actually had three daughters, one of which, Felicity, my grand mother was mentioned as having been involved in the lava lamp story on this site about half way down the page, in what looks like some kind of newspaper cutting perhaps: 

http://frink.machighway.com/~edwardcr/lavalamptimeline/hippie1.htmll

This is what it said:

'Brief History of the "Astro" Lamp

It all started with the British war-time shortage of egg-timers! The Dunnet family's favourite egg-timer lay shattered on the floor. The youngest daughter, Felicity, looked on shamefaced as the precious pieces were collected up and thrown into the dustbin. But when father Dunnet heard the terrible news, he quickly set to work to produce a substitute. Consulting Engineer to a North British Insurance Company, Mr. Dunnet was a prolific inventor.

If sand could be made to measure time by controlled falling through the air, so could oil be made to measure time by controlled rising to the surface of water. So it was that a kind of inverted egg-timer was born! And from this, through numerous stages came the idea of a water/oil "Bubble Lamp......"'

As some of you may know the patents Donald held for the lamps and some of his other inventions can be found here and provide an interesting insight into their construction: http://patent.ipexl.com/assignee/donald_dunnet_1.html  or  http://worldwide.espacenet.com/searchResults?ST=singleline&loca...

I hope you find this information and small number of photographs of interest, if there is something you'd like to ask please do, and I will do my best to answer them. We do have several more photographs of Donald and some of his other inventions which may be of interest.

Thanks

Charlie

Views: 1598

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Charlie, thank you so much for posting this, lovely to see some more early history. I've previously posted a link to the Donald Dunnet patent when the name has come up. A quick search on FreeBMD shows the death of a Donald Dunnet in Worthing aged 67, recorded in December 1960, (so could have been the quarter October to December 1960) http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?r=221696571:7610&d..., probably him?. Also the birth of a Felicity Dunnet in 1935 http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?r=221696571:7610&d.... As for sending anythig to Mathmos, they have a Facebook page, so if you are on Facebook, why not post a little bit of information on there, and see what response you get!.



stevemo said:

Charlie, thank you so much for posting this, lovely to see some more early history. I've previously posted a link to the Donald Dunnet patent when the name has come up. A quick search on FreeBMD shows the death of a Donald Dunnet in Worthing aged 67, recorded in December 1960, (so could have been the quarter October to December 1960) http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?r=221696571:7610&d..., probably him?. Also the birth of a Felicity Dunnet in 1935 http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?r=221696571:7610&d.... As for sending anythig to Mathmos, they have a Facebook page, so if you are on Facebook, why not post a little bit of information on there, and see what response you get!.

Thanks for looking into that, much appreciated. Just spoken to my Aunt again and she is certain that he passed away in the second half of 1960 and lived in Worthing at the time which ties up with what you found. As for Mathmos we are definitely considering contacting them but are concerned by how they might feel about this seeing as Craven Walker is heavily promoted on their site as the 'original inventor'  of the lava lamp, and I guess they might see it as kind of undermining to the story they have promoted. We're not out to cause any trouble or stir things up, just gain a bit of overdue recognition for Donald. I have read, although cannot 100% confirm as no one I have spoken to in the family seems to know, that Donald's Widow sold the patents and/or information on the lamps to Craven for a small amount along the lines of £50. So we are quite confident that what Craven did was all legitimate and fair. All credit to Craven for what he achieved with promoting the lamps and turning it into a success story, but he was perhaps not quite the 'inventive' character to the level he is said to be. Maybe more of a clever business man than a inventor as such (Just my opinion). It is just a shame Donald passed when he did and wasn't able to progress with it, as if so the situation today could have been quite different. Donald's other two daughters may still be alive but we have not had contact with them in a long time. One had moved to New Zealand and the other was living in Cornwall, so who knows, they may have more information and photographs that we have never seen. 

 

Wow! That is so interesting! Thank you for sharing

Mathmos has a unit they refer to as the first prototype lamp. It looks like the "lantern" models in the testing photo: a rough metal base, + shaped straps up the sides, and an (empty) glass cocktail shaker bottle. Is this possibly the last remaining Dunnet creation?

This one?

random internet Lava lamp 1 - an early prototype

Jonas Clark-Elliott said:

Mathmos has a unit they refer to as the first prototype lamp. It looks like the "lantern" models in the testing photo: a rough metal base, + shaped straps up the sides, and an (empty) glass cocktail shaker bottle. Is this possibly the last remaining Dunnet creation?

I really enjoyed reading about your great grandfather, Charlie.  His early contributions made it possible for us to enjoy all of today's modern motion lamps.  You should be proud.

Thanks so much for posting and sharing your personal family history with all of us!  

Truly amazing stuff, which turned the history as I knew it on its ear. That photo of several lamps being tested is absolutely unbelievable! The photo Keith posted-- is that actually an original Donald Dunnet lamp, empty and sans cap?

Sorry for taking a while to respond, have been pretty busy over the past couple months. I had come across the image of that prototype on their website a little while ago but there is so little information with it that it's hard be sure of its exact origins. There is definitely a strong visual similarity between that and the prototypes in my photograph, as mentioned before Craven was said to have had some form of contact with Donald's widow, so it is quite possible that any of Donald's remaining lamps could have been bought when he purchased the patents. If this was indeed a Dunnet made lamp then I would not be surprised if this is why there is vague/no further information accompanying the image, as this would conflict with the idea of Craven being the sole inventor.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Support Oozing Goo

By using the eBay button above, you support OG if you purchase anything. Thanks for thinking of us. Mark Goo

© 2018   Created by Mark Goo.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service