What is a Lighter?
A lighter is a portable device used to create a flame. The lighter consists of a metal or plastic container. The container is filled with a flammable liquid or pressurised liquid gas, which is simply a means of ignition to start the flame. There is also some provision for extinguishing the flame.
Invention of the Lighter
During the 19th century there was an increased focus on creating self-igniting friction matches. There was also a focus on developing lighters.
Before the pocket lighters people had to rely on tinder boxes and then Vesta cases. Vestas were made from thick cotton threads dipped in paraffin wax. They had with a phosphorus head would ignite when rubbed against roughened serrations. Read more about their history and origin here.
It is said that one of the first lighters to be invented was by a German chemist called Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner in 1823. It was often referred to as Döbereiner’s lamp. The lighter/lamp worked by passing flammable hydrogen gas, produced within the lighter, over a platinum metal catalyst. This in turn would cause it to ignite and give off heat and light. Unfortunately, the lamp was very large, hard to use and also highly dangerous. Thus it didn’t remain popular.
The development of lighters continued through the 19th century. Pocket lighters made an entrance during the late Victorian era. These were hollow and filled with fuel, which was then absorbed by a cotton wick. This model used a sparking flint mechanism. Victorian lighters were predominantly crafted in brass however silver lighters were also found.
Ferrocerium (sometimes misidentified as flint) was patented by Carl Auer von Welsbach in 1903. This made a lot of modern lighters possible. When scratched the material produces a large spark which is responsible for lighting the fuel for lighters.
Using Welsbach’s ferrocerium, companies like Ronson were able to develop practical and easy to use lighters. Fine examples are the Pist-o-liter (1910) and Wonderlite (1913).
By the 1920s and 30s many lighters were crafted in the iconic Art Deco style. Some of these examples would even be inset with a tiny watch.