Tuesday, March 10, 2015


The book Records of the Unworldly and the Strange, by Tao Gu, China in 950 AD gives the earliest descriptions of a match:
If there occurs an emergency at night it may take some time to make a light to light a lamp. But an ingenious man devised the system of impregnating little sticks of pinewood with sulphur and storing them ready for use. At the slightest touch of fire they burst into flame. This marvellous thing was earlier called a “light-bringing slave”, but afterwards when it became an article of commerce its name was changed to ‘fire inch-stick’.”

In 1669, Hennig Brandt in Hamburg was experimenting to transform an olio of base metals into gold, but accidentally produced the element phosphorous. He did not make use of his discovery.

In 1680, Robert Boyle, a British physicist coated coarse paper in phosphorous, and a splinter of wood in sulphur. When the wood was passed through the folded paper, it burst into flames. Due to the limited amount of phosphorous, this invention was little more than expensive.

In 1817, “the Ethereal Match” was invented by a French chemist in which a piece of paper coated with a compound of phosphorous got ignited when exposed to air. The paper was vacuum-sealed in a glass tube called the “match,” and whenever required it was ignited by smashing the tube.

In 1826, John Walker, an apothecary in Stockton-On-Tees, was conducting an experiment in his laboratory. He stirred a mixture of antimony sulphide, potassium chlorate, gum and starch with a wooden stick, and subsequently scraped the stick on the stone floor of the lab to remove a glob of the solution dried on the end of it.

When the stick burst into flames, Walker felt it very interesting and made several of the sticks. He demonstrated it again with Samuel Jones in London.

Samuel Jones realized the commercial potential of this sudden invention and set up a match business in London, and cleverly named his product “Lucifer’s”.  Lucifers became popular and following their introduction in London, tobacco smoking of all kinds greatly increased.

In 1831, Charles Sauria of France developed a match that used white phosphorus. These matches were strike-anywhere matches.

They were much easier to ignite and caused many unintentional fires. Also White phosphorus proved to be highly toxic. Workers in match plants inhaled white phosphorus fumes and hence suffered from a horrible degeneration of the jawbones known as "phossy jaw."

Inspite of this health hazard, white phosphorus continued to be used in strike-anywhere matches until the early 1900s, when government action in the United States and Europe forced manufacturers to switch to a nontoxic chemical.

A non-poisonous match using red phosphorous was invented in the mid-1800s; however it was more expensive to produce.

After agitation and worker actions like the London Match girl’s Strike in 1888, Government pass legislation against the use of white phosphorous, which forced match manufacturers to reform their dangerous product.

In 1844, Gustaf Pasch of Sweden placed some of the match's combustion ingredients on a separate striking surface, rather than adding them all into the match head, as an extra precaution against accidental ignition.

In 1855, J. E. Lundstrom of Sweden introduced safety matches coupling the idea of Gustaf Pasch with the discovery of less-reactive, nontoxic red phosphorus.

Although safety matches posed less of a hazard, but still many people preferred to use strike-anywhere matches, and both types continued to be used today.

In 1896, a brewing company ordered more than fifty thousand matchbooks to advertise a new product on it and the ubiquitous practice of matchbook advertising was born.

 In the 1940’s the psychological warfare branch of the U.S. government distributed thousands of matchbooks containing anti-Nazi slogans to occupied countries, and the French Resistance produced matchbooks containing instructions on how to derail Nazi trains printed on the inside cover.

Thirty thousand match heads will produce a 10-15 foot column of flame. A satchel of sixty thousand match heads has enough firepower to propel a 6 pound bowling ball 1500 feet.

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