How Car Headlights Evolved

Throughout the over ten decades that cars have been around, throwing light in front of a car has evolved from the flickering of gas in a lantern to the bright LEDs of today. Automobiles have evolved in ways that no one would have thought could exist in the years prior. In particular, of all the technologies automobiles have used throughout the years, perhaps none have changed more than a vehicle’s headlight. Keep reading to learn more facts that we acquired from this Farmingdale, NY Lexus dealer!

Car Headlights Evolved
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The Start:

Beginning in the late 1800s, headlight technology was only a gas lantern that had a reflecting mirror inside. The gas was usually acetylene, which was created by adding water to calcium carbide. These lantern-based lights could work for many hours but gave low-candlepower.  If a car was moving slowly, they were acceptable illumination, however, vehicle engineers knew that more powerful lighting would be required.

Now, for some more interesting stuff: the first electric headlights made their premier on an electrically-powered vehicle, a 1898 Columbia. Unfortunately, those headlights weren’t much of an improvement. These early headlights had weak tungsten filaments that often broke on rough roads and they weren’t bright to begin with. In fact, it was common for vehicle operators to carry a number of replacement spares and be ready at all times to stop the vehicle to install another bulb. Drivers must’ve been really annoyed with this.

Another issue with the early electric lights was that they cast a big beam of light. Focusing these huge lights into a more useful, brighter cone required bulky, convex lenses. In the 1910s, the Corning Glass Company helped with that venture when they brought about their Conaphore headlight. This type of headlight used a Fresnel glass lens to focus the light beam. Fresnel lenses let the glass covers be far thinner than typical convex lenses. This was a serious advantage.

The 1940s:

In the 1940s, the “Sealed Beam” presented itself. Anyone who has worked on a vehicle that was made in the U.S from 1940 until the early 1990s knows what “Sealed Beam” headlights are: single-piece electric headlights that combine the filament, reflector, housing, and lens all into one unit.

The 1990s:

Ultra-bright halogen bulbs surfed into use in the 1990s. A number of people think that halogen is a type of gas. Halogen isn’t a gas, though, it’s really a group of chemicals combined with an inert filler gas.  Halogen provides a certain kind of atmosphere allows tungsten elements to burn brighter and with less energy. Many cars use halogen bulbs these days.

The Present Day:

The big thing in automotive headlights now is light-emitting diodes (LEDS). These are solid state devices, without filaments, and are ultra-bright. LEDS have been used on parking lights, turn signals, and taillights for years now and they are starting to be put into headlight applications. Efficiency is one of the most important advantages that LEDS offer.We hope that you’ve enjoyed looking at how the automotive headlight evolved over the last 100 or so years!

We hope that you’ve enjoyed looking at how the automotive headlight evolved over the last 100 or so years!

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