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Saturday, 16 April 2016


The Chinese are thought to have made a type of match in the sixth century by dipping pine sticks in sulfur and letting it dry.

The Stockton-On-Tees, England, based chemist John Walker was the first to make the discovery that when a stick coated in potassium chlorate and antimony sulphide was brushed across stone, it created a flame. He accidentally invented matches on November 27, 1826 when trying to rub off some chemicals that had solidified on the end of a stick he had been using to stir them.

John Walker began selling the world’s first friction match on April 7, 1827. The price of a box of 50 matches was one shilling. With each box was supplied a piece of sandpaper, folded double, through which the match had to be drawn to ignite it.

Between 1827 and 1829, Walker made about 168 sales of his matches. They were however dangerous and flaming balls sometimes fell to the floor burning carpets and dresses, leading to their ban in France and Germany

Walker called his matches 'Congreves' after Sir William Congreve, who had invented a rocket used in war.

A tin "Congreves" matchbox (1827), produced by John Walker

Nobody called them just 'matches' until 1830. The word 'match' had previously been used for the wick of a candle or a piece of cord dipped in sulfur to be used to light a candle or lamp.

John Walker never patented the match because he thought it was too important to be anything but public property.

A succession of chemists perfected Walker's mix. One version was patented by Samuel Jones, who sold them as lucifer matches, which were manufactured in the United States under that name by Ezekial Byam. The term "lucifer" persisted as slang in the 20th century and matches are still called lucifers (in Dutch) in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Sulphur-head matches, 1828, lit by dipping into a bottle of phosphorus

In the 1840s Swedish chemist Gustaf Erik Pasch managed to construct the first safety match by both replacing the dangerous white phosphorus with the more benign red phosphorus and moving the phosphorus from the head of the match to a specially prepared striking surface.

Pasch was unable to commercially exploit his invention. A decade later John Edvard Lundström and his younger brother Carl Frans took the Pasch design and improved on it. Their safety match got an award at the “World Exhibition” in Paris 1855 and became commercially successful

Household safety matches. Wikipedia Commons

By the late nineteenth century,  matches were a necessity for smoking and the lighting of stoves and gas appliances. Every single source of heat and illumination in a home was activated by striking a match and stick matches were kept all around the house. Some were kept in a tin holder on the kitchen wall next to the stove, and others in more decorative containers throughout people's homes.

The development of a specialized matchbook with both matches and a striking surface occurred when Joshua Pusey, a cigar-smoking lawyer in Pennsylvania, invented the matchbook. He received a patent for his invention (which he called "flexibles") on September 27, 1889.

Pusey later sold the invention to the Diamond Match Company for $4000 in 1896.

The word 'phillumenist' for a collector of matchbox covers was first recorded in 1943.

Around the world about half a trillion matches are used every year.

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