This interesting little item popped up while cataloguing a donation. It’s exciting because it features a card with flaps on so you can see the inner works of a Nernst lamp.  The item is in 3 parts: the card with the lamp on, a card stating how the lamp should be used, and the wrapper which gives details of the lamps selling points (its brightness, how economical it is etc.). The lamp was developed by Walther Nernst (1864-1941), a German physical chemist who won a Noble Prize in 1920 for his work in thermochemistry (sadly he also has a darker side as he was involved in the development of chemical warfare during WW1). The lamp was easier to construct than other filament lamps of the time, as it didn’t involve the use of a vacuum, and it produced a brighter light. Nernst sold the patent for the lamp to AEG (Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft) around 1898 and production began in 1900. Barkan points out that the Nernst lamp was not viewed as a rival to the carbon filament lamp of Edison (which AEG also owned the German patent to) but as an alternative to gas lamps. Production was well timed as the Paris International Exhibition took place during the summer of 1900. However the launch fell flat due to the lamps taking so long to heat up before producing any actual light. This meant they had to be preheated thus not showing the lamp in the best, well, light. The restricted hours for demonstrations (5-7pm) and the refusal to admit new visitors after 6pm, meant that not many people actual saw the lamps in operation either. Production of the lamps ended in 1909 as it never really lived up to its expectations and AEG didn’t recover their investment. The lamp was not a complete waste of time, it has played a role in heat radiation and conductivity research, and Barkan has noted that they were still used in spectroscopy in the 1990’s.


Diana Kormos Barkan. Walther Nernst and the transition to modern science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, c1999. (S8.NER.BAR 1)

K. Mendelssohn. The world of Walther Nernst: the rise and fall of German science (London: Macmillan, 1973) (S8.NER.MEN 1)

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