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History and Development

History and Development – Portable lights

Torches have been around since mankind mastered fire and the harnessing of flames for personal use is one of the most important developments in history. The most basic form of the torch started life as a stick with a combustible material at the end - we have come a long way since then!


Tallow candles

Tallow is the fatty tissue/suet of an animal and candles were produced by repeatedly dipping lengths of wick into the fat, building up the thickness of the candle. The quality of the fat would impact on the resulting candle and could result in excessive smell or soft candles. The wicks were made from threads of cotton, flax, or hemp and needed to be trimmed regularly. A longer wick would result in the candle becoming too hot, with the wax melting too quickly and being wasted. This would also result in more smoke and adding to the already foul smell.


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Oil and gas lamps were also developed, although the gas lamps were reliant on the locations of the gas pipe and were therefore not portable and oil would go “off” if not used and was unreliable.  

In 1846, Abraham Gesner distilled kerosene from coal, but this was prohibitively expensive and it wasn’t until the 1860s, when it was cheaper to distil from petroleum, that kerosene lamps became popular.

Modern Torches

During the 19th century, batteries were developed which lead to the invention of hand torches, which would become far safer, more reliable, and more powerful than the traditional candles and lamps.


David Misell and Conrad Hurbert were the first to mass-produce torches in 1899, but they were unreliable and burnt out quickly – hence the name “flashlight”! – and were mostly a novelty item.


LEDs were invented in 1961 by James R. Biard and Garry Pittman, although their invention was a complete accident as the two engineers were actually trying to develop semiconductors. It wasn’t until almost 40 years later that LEDs were small and efficient enough for use in torches but the advancements in LED technology in the past couple of decades is astonishing. They are becoming smaller, more powerful and more environmentally friendly, so much so that they have replaced the traditional fluorescent, halogen and incandescent bulbs within the E.U. In fact, as of September 2018, only LED bulbs will be allowed to be imported to E.U countries.


Batteries were also becoming more efficient and during the 1960s the first rechargeable torch was developed. Further advancements in torches followed, including water-resistant and push-button versions. 

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