Lighting Mawson's Hut
This image is of the acetylene generator which remains today in Mawson's hut at Cape Denison.
Acetylene was discovered in 1836 by Edmund Davy, in England, who identified it as a "new carburet of hydrogen." It was rediscovered in 1860 by French chemist Marcellin Berthelot, who coined the name "acetylene" and the German chemist Friedrich Wohler also claims credit for its discovery in 1862.
Acetylene gas is produced by reacting calcium carbide with water. The generator, such as the one that lighted Mawson's hut, had the lower two chambers filled with pellets of calcium carbide with the upper chambers filled with water. A screw valve regulated the flow of water dripping into the carbide chambers. The acetylene gas thus produced traveled around the hut via a combination of india rubber and brass tubing, along the hut's roof beams and walls to the various acetylene lamps where their flames gave off a brilliant white light.
Acetylene lighting was developed in the 1890s and due to its brilliant light (10 to 12 times brighter than any other form of lighting then available) it become a threat to the newly-emerging electric light. Carbide production at the end of the 19th Century became a major industry and giant companies such as Union Carbide in the US was developed in 1900. Even as late as 1916 the Commonwealth Carbide Works in Tasmania at Electrona was established.
Mawson's lighting generator did not create any noise, was fuel-efficient, and today is a wonderful survivor from the heroic era.