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The Hydrogen Lighter by Arnaud Thomasson



Scientists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries vied with each other in their ingenuity to create new ways of igniting fire. In the late 1770s, the famous Italian physicist Alessandro Volta proposed a lighter based on the ignition of hydrogen by electric sparks.
In 1823, Döbereiner perfected this process to create a table lighter for domestic use. This device produced its hydrogen from the attack of zinc with sulphuric acid. The hydrogen then remained under pressure in the body of the lighter. A platinum sponge catalyst, a flame was produced instantly by opening the valve that held the gas.

The "Annale des Mines" of 1823 indicates the process and future of a hydrogen-based public lighting system, reporting the economic and physical advantages of such a discovery. His lighter was very successful in Germany and especially in Russia. It was marketed until 1880, when many chemical discoveries were developed that were more practical for domestic use. The production cost of Döbereiner's lighters was very high, as they were considered avant-garde scientific objects until 1850 and were made of the most precious and rare materials of the time. The glasses were made of cut crystal with a diamond pattern, Paris porcelain or the Royal Manufacture in Berlin with rich hand-painted decorations. The bases were veneered with the finest woods such as Cuban mahogany and decorated with finely chiselled bronze.

The first examples have a resin-filled lead disc in their square bases that was rubbed with a cat skin, thus accumulating the static electricity necessary for ignition. It was triggered in a simple way: the tap delivering the gas pulled a string making a copper axis ending in a ball tilt, activating a rocker contact. The insulation was provided by turned ivory rings and cylinders. The second half of the 19th century saw a "democratization" of the principle, declined in simple blown glass, relating popular themes (devils) or of "Chinese" style decorated in their tops of characters. Some examples from the last period were declined in the Japanese and "Art-Nouveau" style.

Many other physical and chemical principles were used to create lighters. These include lighters based on a chemical reaction, such as the oxygen lighter or the sodium lighter. Other systems make use of a spark, usually produced by static electricity (hydrogen lighter, Mayr's alcohol lighter, Hess' ether alcohol lighter).

Another family of electric lighters takes advantage of the incandescence of a platinum wire through which current flows (Klinkerfues lighter, Satune lighter, Voisin and Dronier lighter, Luminus lighter). Examples are preserved in the Deutsches Museum and the pharmacy of the castle of Heidelberg, in the Bryant & May Museum in London, in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, as well as in some private collections.

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