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On the safety lamp for coal miners; with some researches on flame by Sir Humphry Davy

Humphry Davy's book

On the safety lamp for coal miners; with some researches on flame by Sir Humphry Davy. 1818

Geoscientist 20.11 November 2010

Michael McKimm writes: As the rescuers in Chile continue to drill towards the 33 stranded miners, locked two miles below the surface, we are reminded once again of what the July editorial of this magazine called our ‘industrial heroes’ – not only the men and women who daily risk their lives in pursuit of minerals for our commodity-driven world, but those called upon to improve and ensure their safety as they do so, and to perform mining miracles when things go wrong.

One such hero was Humphry Davy (1778–1829). Called upon to address the high numbers of explosions in mines, Davy found that the mixture of air and methane only reacted at a high temperature. A number of mining explosions had been caused by methane gas being ignited by the open flames of the lamps then used by miners. Davy devised a lamp with narrow tubes to cool down the gases, enclosing the flame in wire gauze. As historian David Knight states, the ‘Davy lamp’ was ‘a device developed in the laboratory that worked down the mine—this was one of the very first examples of technology as applied science.’1

The Society’s copy was presented by Davy himself to our then fledgling library, and is bound with his earlier essay, ‘Practical hints on the application of wire-gauze to lamps, for preventing explosions in coal mines’ (1816), in which he first presented his ideas to the Royal Institution.


  1. David Knight, ‘Davy, Sir Humphry, baronet (1778–1829)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  • The Library operates a sponsorship scheme to help preserve and restore its rare books. For more information, contact Michael McKimm in the library, or see the Sponsor A Book page on the Society’s website: