I have searched around the web to bring you this article on the development of the automotive headlamp from the beginning right up until the latest LED developments.
As far as I can ascertain the beginning of the electric automotive headlamps journey began in about 1898 by a company called the Electric Vehicle Company in Connecticut, based in a place called Hartford. Although we do read of reference to gas lamps (acetylene) used on the first vehicles in the 1880’s.
So it was awhile back and also we are more interested in the electric lamp development for the motor car.
It is actually quite funny when you read the development especially what was considered acceptable. The filaments (they were incandescent lamps) would regularly burnout, usually caused by the rough road conditions also the cars power supply was pretty anemic and struggled to provide the necessary electric power, especially when we read they were about one percent efficient.
In today’s society, faced with the same challenge I am sure we would just give up.
All of the above did not deter our friends at Cadillac and apparently they produced the first modern headlight system. This was a totally new arrangement compared to previous efforts and could even be used in the rain and snow without the risk of getting burned. Oh it was considered a revolution in its day.
We then move on to a company called the Guide Lamp Company who rolled out the next technological breakthrough in about 1915. This was the introduction of the low beam headlamp. In reality it was not until about 1924 before we saw a proper high/low beam headlamp with an internal switch.
The next major development was the Halogen lamp which popped into the automotive headlamp arena in Europe in about 1962. These become mandatory in several countries due to their excellent capability. The sealed beam incandescent headlamp persisted as standard fitment until about 1978. The halogen headlamp is still used today by many automotive manufacturers.
The next development was high intensity discharge lighting systems (HID) often described as Xenon headlights. These started appearing in the top end models of some German vehicles in about 1991. These are still a rather costly option and have not yet been fully embraced by the automotive manufacturers. The jury is still out on these.
This brings us to the LED which has taken off slowly but appears to be moving ahead quite quickly. Its foray into headlamps is still in its infancy, although their use in tail lamps, brake lights and indicators seems assured.
Time will tell, but for now the Xenon is considered an excellent, although expensive, headlight design and the 3157 LED and its derivatives is leading the way for all other small signal and indication type lighting in the automotive scene.