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Dr. William Reid Clanny

Born: 1776, Died:1850

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William Reid Clanny was born in in Bangor, County Down, in Ireland in 1776. He studied medicine in Edinburgh. He worked first as an Assistant Surgeon in the Royal Navy and later as a doctor in Bishop Wearmouth near Sunderland.

In 1811 Clanny took his first steps towards the development of a safe light for use in underground mines. He described his first lamp on May 20, 1813 in a paper "On the means of procuring a steady light in coal mines without danger of explosion" for the Royal Philosophical Society.

The so-called "bellows lamp" consisted of a tin lantern housing a candle with a glass window. Air was forced in through a water trap by a set of bellows. The air left the lamp through a chimney that was submerged in a second water-trap. Although the construction prevented any possibility of the ignition of methane in the mine, the "bellows lamp" found no practical application, largely because it required the services of a second person to operate the bellows while the lamp was being used to illuminate the work being done.

The lamp looks remarkably similar in principle to the lamp developed by Alexander von Humboldt in the 1790's.


Clanny's first lamp, the "bellows" lamp

Clanny developed a more portable version of his bellows lamp, the "blast lamp", which was tested in the upcast shaft of Hetherington Mill Colliery on October 16, 1815.

On November 20, 1815, Clanny tested his "steam lamp", which used an oil burner instead of a candle. This lamp was quite popular, and found service in several collieries (Herrington Mill, Whitefield Colliery, Engine Colliery, Lady Frances Vane's Mine).

On May 31, 1816, Clanny was awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Society of Arts for his invention of the "steam lamp". He was further honoured with the Gold Medal of the same society in May, 1817.

In 1841, Clanny introduced his sixth lamp, which used a glass globe beneath the gauze to provide better illumination. This, the "Clanny lamp", formed the basic design for all the lamps that followed.

In 1848, in a Public testimonial, the Sunderland Athenaeum Club presenteed Clanny with 100 Sovereigns for "the constructor of the very first safety lamp that was ever invented".

As well as his work in the mining industry, Clanny played a significant role in the fight against cholera. He died on January 10, 1850, near Sunderland, Co. Durham, in England.