From carriages to Camaro’s, learn how people through the centuries have driven in the dark
The ubiquitous automobile, the crowning invention of modern times, has been around for just over 100 years. During that tiny span of time it has evolved in seemingly impossible ways, and perhaps no other automotive technology has evolved more than the lowly headlight. Responsible for illuminating in front of the car, an important function to say the least, the lights on automobiles have evolved from burning gas in a lantern to the ultra-bright LEDs today. Join us while we explore how the automotive headlight evolved over the years.
In the late 1800s, the first headlight technology to hit the scene was a simple gas lantern with a reflecting mirror, a sufficient means of lighting for a slow moving carriage perhaps, but by nature, a low-candlepower light source with poor luminosity. The fuel was usually oil or acetylene gas. Fun fact: acetylene lamps were also known as carbide lamps and were originally developed for mining.
The first electric headlights debuted on an electrically-powered car, the 1898 Columbia. Unfortunately, they weren’t immediately much of an improvement. They had weak tungsten filaments that often broke on rough roads and they weren’t terribly bright. It wasn’t until the early 1910s when the Corning Glass Company debuted their Conaphore headlight that something resembling the modern headlight was created. The Conaphore was the first modern headlamp because it used a glass lens to direct an electric light bulb into a bright, projecting cone.
Moving forward in time, anyone who’s worked on an American-market car from 1940 until the early 1990s knows what “Sealed Beam” headlights are. Much like a household flood light, these one-piece lights combined the filament, reflector, housing, and lens all into one unit. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 required that all cars use a system of two 7? round sealed beam headlight until 1970, when the Feds allowed rectangular headlights to be used.
Tungsten-halogen bulbs debuted in the 1990s. The word ‘halogen’ does not connote a gas per se; it’s a group of chemicals on the periodic table, consisting of elements like chlorine and iodine, that are usually combined with an inert filler gas within bulbs. With halogens, you can get the tungsten to burn brighter with less energy. Most modern headlights use halogen bulbs. Although, the use of Xenon bulbs, also known as high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, is becoming more popular due to the higher visibility they offer.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are the “next big thing” in automotive lighting on the market now. Today they are commonly used on parking lights, taillights, and turn signals, and are slowly starting to creep their way into headlights. One of the most important advantages that LEDs offer is low-heat production, thus making them highly efficient.
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