The History of Car Headlights - Sunway Autoparts

The History of Car Headlights

Home The History of Car Headlights

If you are just starting out in the business of car headlights, you will have to know the trends and history of the industry and the manufacturing. A part of the essential knowledge of the car headlamp business is knowing the headlight history of different types of headlights. 

The automotive industry has seen different changes with technological innovation, which is included in the history of car headlights. If you want to know more about the shift from antique car headlights to modern alternatives, you will have to understand their function and the customer demand. Read on for more information. 

Antique Auto Headlights

Sealed beam headlights
Source: Unsplash

Headlights have seen a steady evolution since the time they came on the scene. Any business owner who deals with headlights should know the basics about headlamps before diving in. Before modern headlights came to the stage, all the lights came with sealed beam designs that were harder to replace and produced a lot of heat. 

Directly related to automotive companies, the manufacturing of these headlights was done in accordance with the national laws that kept changing with time. To understand the details of vintage car headlights, we will have to look at different designs and stages of development of headlamps that came to the market over the years. 

Lantern Headlights

These were the first headlights that came to the market in the 1880s. These lantern headlamps stayed on the scene for at least two decades, even after the introduction of electric headlamps. Powered by acetylene, these headlights were resistant to air and moisture and were a good choice for automotive. The fuel was bought and sold, and the light was supposed to be turned on by a manual switch. 

Electric Headlamps

While electric headlights became a means of lighting up the road only after one decade of lantern headlights, they did not become widespread because of the limitations in technology. The issue in a vintage headlight was that it needed to survive the intrusion of air and water in the environment and keep burning precisely as needed. So by the late 19th century, electric headlamps were not extensively used because of the short life of their filaments. 

Shift to Modern Headlamps

As mentioned before, due to technological limitations, electrical headlamps needed more time to be developed into modern solutions for headlamps. But by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, electric headlights were offered as standard equipment by manufacturers just like lantern headlights previously were. This shift allowed for different manufacturers to shift to a new alternative and opt for electrical headlamps. 

Even now, if your customers are looking for antique car headlights for sale, they will not see acetylene headlamps because that is an outdated technology. Even though the designs match that of the 19th century, all the designs available now are powered by modern headlights, whether they are sealed beam lights or halogen. So if you want to start a business of antique auto headlights, you will have to cater to a customer base in terms of functionality and design. 

Modern Headlights

Composite Headlights
Source: Unsplash

Modern headlights as we know them had come to be only when electric headlamps were standardized in 1908. Chosen as the standard equipment in the automotive industry one after the other, the first type of headlight to come to the forefront was a sealed beam headlight. There were many regulations and laws related to sealed headlights which caused design changes in automotive after approximately every couple of decades. 

One thing that customers and even many business owners do not realize when they talk about classic car headlamps is that the most vintage design being talked about usually refers to sealed beam headlights and not acetylene designs. So, if you think about it, even the vintage designs of headlamps are the older modern versions. Any supplier you go to will help you out with antique headlamps but only up to the sealed beam versions. 

Sealed Beam Headlights

These headlights were the direct followers of the lantern headlights. As manufacturers started experimenting with designs, they figured out a better way to make the filaments last longer without causing any harm from the environmental conditions. They were still called burnt out headlamps but were a better alternative than lantern type lights. 

An important aspect to keep in mind about sealed beam headlights were that they were not without their set of disadvantages. A significant disadvantage was that the entire headlight needed to be replaced in the vent the filament went out rather than just the bulb. Apart from this, the glass in the form of the headlight often blacked from the heat, which also caused the need for a replacement. 

Tracing the history of sealed beam headlights begins somewhere in the 1930s and continues for at least four decades before they were replaced by composite headlights or with halogen designs. According to government regulations, sealed beam lights were mandated by law to be a specific size at first. Later rules required the use of four headlamps instead of two. 

Composite Headlights

More and more manufacturers made the shift to composite headlights because of ease of use and also because of the new mandates by the government. Coming with halogen bulbs, composite lights allowed for brighter light than the typical bulbs and also had a longer life which required fewer replacements. So when we talk of a modern headlight, it is a composite light that only needs the bulb to be changed rather than the whole setup. 


As a business creating a customer base for antique and modern headlights, you need to first secure a reliable manufacturer and supplier. Many companies claim to provide quality old car headlights for sale, but only a few of them guarantee customer satisfaction, like Sunway. 

Whether you want headlamps for a car or a vintage style motorcycle headlight, you can easily opt for Sunway’s services and look through their product catalog to get suitable options. Still have questions? Contact Sunway directly. 

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