Fire-lighting Lamp: Dobereiner brings fire instantly to hand
Prior to the seventeenth century, anyone intent on lighting a fire would first have had to find another fire. It was either that or return to antiquity and try to coax a flame by means of one of a variety of methods involving sticks or stones. By the eighteenth century fires were being started with convex burning glasses but these were of no use if a fire had to be lit in the dark or when there was no direct sunlight.
The first pneumatic fire-lighter was invented in 1770. This device relied on rapid compression of gases too produce heat and the all-important flame. But it was not until the mid-1830s that the first practical fire-lighting lamp for use in the home became available. Just five years after German chemist Johann Dobereiner came up with his initial idea in 1832, 20,000 fire-lighting lamps were in use in England and Germany. They were to remain popular until safety matches followed by modern cigarette lighter, appeared on the scene.
Dobereiner realized through his experiments with platinum that a fine platinum powder would produce a flame in the presence of hydrogen gas. Actually the reaction had been noted before, but Dobereiner was the first to put it to any practical use. Within days of his rediscovery of the phenomenon, he had created a lamp, the Dobereinersche Feuerzeug which bought hydrogen into contact with platinum to act as a lighter. The only drawback of the device was that it had to be filled with acid to produce the hydrogen.
Modern cigarette lighters employ a slightly different mechanism with a mixture of metals substituting for platinum as the flint. When the lighter’s button is depressed a wheel rasps against the flint, releasing particles the burst into flame in the air and ignite the gas inside the lighter.