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Carbide Lamps

In 1892, while working with lime, coal tar and a carbon mixture, Major James T. Morehead and Thomas L. Willson developed a brownish-grey substance that gave off a pungent smelling gas when mixed with water. This gas burned with a bright yellow-white flame and they called it acetylene. Within eight years the first carbide lamp was offered to the public.

Carbide Cap Lamps

The first carbide cap lamps weighed approximately four ounces and were four inches high and 1 ½ inches in diameter. The lamp consisted of two compartments that screwed together. The upper part contained water whose flow into the lower chamber containing the carbide, was controlled by a drip valve. A three-inch reflector directed a light of ten-foot candle power and was a great improvement over the tallow candle.

Electric Lamps

Miners are now equipped with battery powered or electric lamps. At first the electric light was too heavy and required a liquid electrolyte, which proved undesirable for several reasons.

A portable lamp is composed of two parts, the battery which furnishes the current, and the bulb. The bulb was perfected quickly but the battery was troublesome. In fact, none of the early experimental lamps proved successful, as the bulb required too heavy a battery. Also, leakage of acid was a serious problem. Today, the cap lamp uses a non-spillable battery and a parabolic reflector equipped with safety features that hooks onto the miner's cap. Electric lamps came on market around the year1902 and have a lifespan of approximately five years.

The dawn of the electric lamp allowed the miner to work in any position without restraint, as it did not interfere with the free motion of the body. Lamphouses at the various collieries had facilities for charging, cleaning, and filling both electric lamps and oil safety lamps.


The methanometer is an instrument to measure the percentage of methane in the air in underground coal mines and has been designed to alert miners to the presence of potentially dangerous concentrations of this gas.

The first electrical methanometer for use in coal mines was developed in 1949. It was known as the W8 methanometer and was powered by an Edison cap lamp battery. Several types of hand held electronic methanometers were developed around the world during the 1950's but the first independently powered instrument, the GP (general purpose) methanometer, was not introduced until 1961. The C4 methanometer was introduced in 1966 and was later replaced by the D6 which is still the main hand held electronic methane detector.

This instrument has been a useful tool enabling mining personnel to prevent thousands of explosions or fires and has undoubtedly saved many lives and helped to avoid countless injuries. The methanometer is arguably the most beneficial safety device ever developed for use in underground coal mining. It has helped improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people involved in or dependant upon the coal mining industry.

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Cape Breton Miners' Museum  :::  Glace Bay  Nova Scotia  Canada  B1A 5T8  :::  Telephone (902) 849-4522  :::  Fax: (902) 849-8022


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