If any automotive technology has evolved over the years, it’s the way cars illuminate the road ahead of them – by their headlights. Join us while we explore how the automotive headlight evolved from a primitive gas lantern into the high-tech illumination device we have today.

1880s – Acetylene Lamps

The earliest headlight technology used a flame, specifically a gas lantern with a reflecting mirror. Because we dealt with flames, the resulting head light beam was relatively unfocused and not a very good means of illumination. The fuel was often acetylene gas. Acetylene lamps were also known as carbide lamps which had been originally developed for mining many years before.

1890s – Early Electric Lights

The first electric headlights debuted on an electrically-powered car, an 1898 Columbia. Unfortunately, they weren’t immediately an improvement. They had tungsten filaments that routinely broke on rough roads. Plus, the gasoline-powered vehicles in the early part of the century used dynamos which produced a lot less electricity than alternators do today; this resulted in weak illumination in addition.

1910s – Lens-Focused Headlights

The Corning glass company of Corning, NY, debuted their revolutionary “Conaphore” headlight in the 1910s. The Conaphore was the first modern headlamp because it used a Conaphore lens to direct electric light bulb into a projecting “cone”. It was billed as a major safety innovation at the time.

1920s – Hi/Low Beams
By the 1920s, it was obvious that two-filament needed to be designed. One filament for intense high-beam illumination and another for low intensity illumination. The two-filament system represented the hi/low beam setup that we know today: two filaments in the same lamp. This lead to the foot-operated highbeam switch but eventually the stalk-actuated switch that we’re most familiar with today.
1940s to 1980s – Sealed Beams

Anyone who’s worked on an American-market car from 1940 until the early 1990s knows this sort of headlight. Much like a household flood light, these one-piece lights combined the filament, reflector, housing, and lens all in one unit. It was a brilliant idea because it standardized automotive lighting systems.

1980s to Present – Composite Headlights

In 1983, composite headlights started to appear. These were headlights that had separate bulbs inside. Instead of replacing the whole unit, all you had to do with a composite system was replace the bulb – the housing, lens, and reflectors were all permanent. This allowed all sorts of unique front end designs to appear, and became the standard headlight type that you’re probably most familiar with.

1990s – Halogen Bulbs

These could be more accurately called tungsten-halogen bulbs. Halogen is technically not a gas, it’s actually a group of gasses like chlorine and iodine that allow a tungsten element to burn brighter with less energy. Most modern headlights today use halogen bulbs.

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights

The most recent revolution in headlight technology is the HID or “xenon” lights. These are actually metal halide arc lights, which use two tungsten electrodes to arc a powerful electric charge. This charge interacts with the gases inside and produces a plasma that emits a very intense light. HID lights tend to have a unique color based on the different spectrum of light emitted by this different process -usually, it’s tinged blue.

Light-Emitting Diodes

Light-emitting diodes (LEDS) are the big thing in automotive lighting now. Today they are commonly used on parking lights, taillights, and turn signals however they are starting to be put into headlights. One of the most important advantages that LEDS offer is that they are low-heat producing and are thus very efficient. However in cold weather, you can’t count on an LED headlight to thaw ice or snow off of the headlight like you can with typical halogen or HID setups. Will they become the premium headlight technology of the future? Probably as prices come down.

Article Source: Newark Chrysler Dodge Jeep

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