Lava Lamps: Flowing for Over Fifty Years

Lava Lamp The Century 1965– photo courtesy of

[For reasons unbeknownst to me, this particular post seems to be one of the most viewed at The Chicago Files! I wrote it a couple of years ago, so I’m reposting it here in case you’d like to know more about the whimsical Lava Lamp]! Without further ado:

Well now, what on earth (or space!) is going on here?  Although a current photo, let’s take a timeline walk back to 1965, where we find this rather unassuming building on Irving Park Road here in Chicago:

Former Lava Lamp Factory, Chicago

– photo courtesy of

Witnessing what can only be thought of as something, ‘out of this world’, two Chicago businessmen saw a strange, odd-looking lamp at a trade show in Belgium.  Securing the rights from the British inventor, the company, “Lava Manufacturing Corporation” set up shop in the building you see in the above photo.

Let’s take a peek inside this, “Lava Lite” (its American name) and see what the brouhaha is all about:

Lava Lamp inside howstuffworks

– photo courtesy of

In a nutshell, there is a special type of wax contained in a liquid substance that is heated with a light bulb at the bottom of the lamp.  As the wax is heated, it turns into a liquid (in ‘blob’ patterns, I must say) that is less dense than the liquid above it.  When the blobs reach the top of the lamp, they begin to cool, down they sink, and the process begins again.  The blobs resemble molten lava; okay, I guess that’s a bit of a stretch, but I assume that’s how our spectral art received its name in the first place.

Lava Lamps

– photo courtesy of

Oh say can you see all the colors of wax (and sparkly stuff, too) floating around in their lava-like formations!  I daresay that is literally the tip of the waxy iceberg.  These lamps come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  I find it rather amusing that the interest in these spacey looking lamps has really, ‘waxed and waned’ over the decades (don’t worry, you needn’t groan at my lame attempt at humor in that sentence; I’ve done it for you)!

Hippies of the ’60s, college students, and many who simply find it a decorative piece of the peculiar over the past five decades have lit up their lives with these rather spaced-out luminaries.  The Smithsonian Institute considers it an, “icon”.  Have you ever seen one?  They are mesmerizing, to say the least.  It’s difficult to say what clinched the deal for our Chicago businessmen all those years ago; was it the blobular (not a word, but I quite like it) shapes of the wax?  Were they visionaries who saw the beauty in the bizarre?  Or was it good ‘ol fashioned luck that played upon their sensibilities and burnished our North American shores with the now iconic light?  Hard to say, really.

Lava Lamps 2

– photo courtesy of

Do you recall my comment that Lava Lamps come in all kinds of shapes, colors, and sizes?  Take a look at this:

Lava Lamp Gumball Machine

– photo courtesy of

I can only imagine the conversation in that room:  “Today we have three blobs for a nickel!”

Despite the fact Lava Lamps for the U.S. market are now made in China, I thought it rather fitting to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of its manufacturing inauguration here in Chicago.

Happy Anniversary, Lava Lamp! May your blobs continue to glow with the flow! 🙂

  2 comments for “Lava Lamps: Flowing for Over Fifty Years

  1. June 12, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Wow, they are from Chicago, and so many kinds too! 1965 – I was five years young. 😄👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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