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Lava Lamp - Additional Perspective

By Nancy Spector

[Editor's note: On January 24, 2001, the daughter of the man who brought the Lava Lamp to the U.S. emailed us with feedback on our article.]

You asked for Lava memories, and, oh boy, have I got 'em!! First I need to let you know that my REAL name is Nancy Spector, and that Hy Spector was my Dad. I guess that in all the stuff on the Web about Lava, I really feel disappointed that Dad doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. Yeah, some guy in Europe first fooled around with the primordial ooze, (my understanding always was that he was trying to create something akin to an hour glass or time keeping device with it, and gave up when he realized he couldn't control the stuff!}. And, yeah, Craven Walker latched onto the idea as a possible marketing bonanza, but it was MY DAD who brought the prototype back here, set up the factory, and then marketed the product here in Chicago, turning it into the success story we all know.

My dad was an incredible guy. He liked to refer to himself as a "reformed gambler." He was an entrepreneur who believed in taking chances on the theory that, if he came out ahead 55% of the time, he was a winner. That meant, of course, that he understood there would be losses as well! After a successful 25 year tenure as the owner of a corrugated container company here in Chicago, he suddenly sold it and went into the Lava business! I was away at college when the decision was made, and I remember a few frantic phone calls from my mother calling into question Dad's mental health at the time. Think about it...."it's some kind of thing that lights up with gloppy colored stuff that goes up and down." That was Mom's description to me over the phone. We were all pretty worried, but we also knew that Dad was having fun.

Indeed, I was there, at the International terminal at O'Hare, picking Dad up upon his return from England with the prototype. They nearly didn't let him through Customs. He had some fancy explaining to do before he could convince them it wasn't some kind of explosive device!

Werthheimer was a partner of Dad's in the box business, and originally part of the Lava project. My recollection, however, is that he dropped out as an active participant very early on. He was probably still an investor, but Dad took over the enterprise itself in his big factory on Irving Park Road. Quality control was a nightmare!! The original lights were extremely sensitive to heat and cold, and this being Chicago, both were present in great abundance. Dad was a man of the people, and he felt terrible about selling lamps that stopped working to people who could barely afford them Indeed, he set up a return station which first husband and I manned on a once a week basis to replace defective lights for anyone who wanted to return them.

Many was the night that Dad returned from Lava with multi-hued globules attached to his pants. He was the CEO, but he was not above getting down and dirty in the vats of Lava goop trying to figure out what wasn't working. There were several chemists hired to plumb the mysteries of the unpredictable formulas in order to achieve a reliable product. I also remember my bedroom serving as a kind of mini-lab in which to test lamps. I usually had ten or so of them lined up on my dresser, and for a given period each night, I would make notations on each one concerning start-up time, globule formation, and that to be aspired to pinnacle of lava performance, "serpentine action."

Lava Lamp wasn't an instant success. I remember the first forays into marketing, and I remember the early victories. What a thrill it was for Dad when the Chicago based Spiegel catalogue agreed to carry his ads. Between 1967 and 1974, it was my Dad who shepherded and nurtured the Lava craze here in the U.S. There were a million headaches, but he also had a ball. He never would have stuck with it if it hadn't been great fun.

When my Dad sold Lava in the mid-70's, business had begun to slack off, and it looked like the ride was over. The only mistake he made was in believing that the day of the Lava Lite was over and gone. How I wish he was around to see the resurgence of what has truly become a cultural icon.

As for me....No member of my family has ever been without at least one lava lite. We have vintage lights, giant lites, and every color imaginable. I cannot look at them without seeing in them a reflection of my Dad's adventurous and playful spirit. He was an amazing guy! He didn't invent it, and he didn't "discover" it, but he had the whimsical eye and the shrewd business sense to realize a good thing when he saw it, and the determination to make it into an incredible part of American pop culture!

Thanks for listening.... contact me any time if you wish. I have a lot more Lava memories where those came from!

Nancy Spector

P.S., It wasn't an instant success either.

 

 

Share Your Memories!

Do you have any interesting or amusing stories to tell about ? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"It was sooo cool!! I'm 15 and a couple years ago I asked my mom for a lava lamp. Her jaw just dropped. She couldn't believe kids still wanted them after all these years. She told me she used to have one when she was a teenager and today I still watch mine every night before falling asleep."

--Anonymous

"I'm a mother of twins and I'm a Super70s freak. I put my babies to sleep at night with the lava lamp - it really relaxes them."

--butterfly

"I can remember shooting pool in my best friends pool room, getting stoned and jammin' to some Rush or Kiss, but somehow we would all end up sitting in the corner of the room where the lava lamp was talking about how our day went and tring to figure out what the hell we were going to do when we finished high school . I am 40 years old now and if I could I would give (ALMOST) anything to sit by that lave lamp just one more time."

--JWCorley1701

"My room is green and purple and I have a purple lava lamp and dress in bell bottoms with beaded necklaces. My mom calls me a hippie, but my lava lamp is the coolest. I wish I was in the Super70s!!!"

--Lil Lavender Fairy

"In my days a lava lamp was very sexy. We would always go to are so called love shack and hang out. It was very hip to have one. It was as popular as my pet rock. All the hippies had it."

--Ms. Oldfield

"My brother got a lava lamp for Christmas one year and I was very jealous. Looking back now I have no idea why except that it was great to look at and even better when you listen to old Led Zeppelin records. I soon found out that they break so easy {they get all foggy and only work when they want to}. To make up for it my mom bought my one of those lights that spins and is so groovy."

--TT


 

FAD FACTS

Lava Lamps faded in popularity in the Awesome80s, but made a comeback in the late 90s.


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