1815 – a time of discoveries (3)

A. Lange & Söhne’s 1815 watch family bears its name in reminiscence of the founder of the Saxon precision watchmaking industry, Ferdinand A. Lange, who was born in Dresden in 1815. The year marks a turning point in European history: Napoleon lost his last battle at Waterloo. The Congress of Vienna created a new world order. Trailblazing inventions expedited the unfolding of the industrial era and later provided rich sources of inspiration for young people like Ferdinand A. Lange. One of these inventions was Humphry Davy’s safety lamp, introduced in 1815.

The year 1815 brought a ground-breaking innovation to mining, the source of Saxon affluence since the Middle Ages. Subsequently, it would save the lives of thousands of miners all over the world and enable the extraction of new resources. In that year, the English chemist Humphry Davy succeeded in inventing a safety lamp. It eliminated the hazard of methane gas explosions in mines, until then one of the greatest threats to the men who worked underground. When the concentration of methane gas in the mine reached a critical level, even the smallest of sparks could trigger a fatal blast.

Davy observed that highly explosive methane-air mixtures would no longer ignite when confined in narrow metal tubes of less than 3.5 millimetres in diameter. This inspired his idea of containing the flame from the miner’s lamp in a cylinder composed of a tightly meshed wire screen. It worked: the good thermal conductivity of the metal kept the temperature of the flammable gas below the ignition temperature and thus prevented firedamp explosions. The invention offered another benefit: any methane that did pass through the metal screen into the cylinder would burn with a bluish tint at the tip of the flame. The size of this so-called aureole now made it possible to estimate the concentration of methane in the ambient air.

Davy’s lamp had one disadvantage, however: it reduced brightness due to the formation of soot on the screen. But Saxon ingenuity soon resulted in a workaround: in 1884, Carl Wolf from Zwickau was granted a patent for a petrol lamp with a borosilicate glass cylinder. It burned much brighter without accumulating soot. The new lamp was in high demand and Friemann & Wolf quickly became the world’s largest maker of mining lamps. At about the same time, the A. Lange & Söhne brand became an international synonym for Saxon watchmaking artistry.

The “Reiche Zeche” in Freiberg was established in 1384. It is the oldest mine in Saxony for which documentary evidence exists. It is part of the Himmelfahrt-Fundgrube mining field, once the region’s largest and highest-yielding mine with over a thousand galleries. Today, it is a research and training mine operated by the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, an internationally leading university of mining and technology.

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