Thursday, July 12, 2012

Early and Brief History of Headlamps

Just like other components of modern vehicles, the headlamp has a much longer history than the automobile itself. Its origin can be traced back to horse-driven wagons. The materials used, design and power source might have changed but the fundamental purpose remains the same.

A headlamp is basically intended to illuminate the pathway of a vehicle during low-visibility conditions such as night time and rainfall. The term headlamp is the more formal term rather than headlight. The latter refers to the light beam that is projected by the device. This light beam is typically focused by a parabolic reflector and by single or multiple glass lenses.

The earliest automotive headlamps were introduced in the latter par of the 1880's when the initial self-propelled "horseless" carriages became practical. These headlamps were fuelled by acetylene or oil. These acetylene headlamps became highly popular because of their practicality compared to other types of lamps during the early development of automobiles. Acetylene headlamps are resistant to both rain and wind.

Although engine powered automobiles were still in their development and prototype stage, they became more than mere curiosities. Consequently, the technological innovations for headlamps also went hand-in-hand with the development of automobiles.

Although the mass production of automobiles only started in 1902, the development of various components of the modern automobile has already taken shape a few years earlier. It was in 1898 that electric-powered headlamps on the Columbia Electric Cars. However, these electric headlamps were optional.

Electric headlamps may seemed to be the most cost-effective and safer option. However, there were two main factors that prevented the widespread use of electric headlamps in the early automobiles. The first main factor was the short life of the lamp filaments that were unable to adapt to harsh environmental elements such as rain, dust and fluctuating temperatures. The second main factor that limited the widespread use of electric headlights was the insufficiency of electric current due to the technical difficulties in manufacturing efficient dynamos and batteries.

By 1904, the use of "Prest-O-Lite" acetylene headlamps became the standard when majority of car manufacturers integrated these lamps in their cars. However, this was soon superseded by electric headlamps when Peerless Motor Company dominated the high-end automobile market in 1908. Meanwhile, it was also during the same year that the world's first complete set of electric car lights was introduced by Pockley Automobile Electric Lighting Syndicate. The set was comprised of headlamps, sidelights, and taillights. The set was powered by an eight-volt battery.

It took another four years before the automobile lights were integrated with the automobile ignition system. It was in 1912 that Cadillac's innovative idea paved the way for the standard integration the lighting system with the ignition system. The modern automobile electrical system was born.

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