Our old friend the matchstick has become less popular to use in modern times. Instead people, more often than not,Â prefer standard lighters or even flashy Zippo lighters which are seen as more convenient to carry around. Here we look at the ‘matchstick men’ and women who invented and produced the match. Solving the the ‘where did matches come from?’ matchstick puzzle.
However, there is something about lighting a match that is more pleasurable than using a lighter. The smell is different and it has an old fashioned feel to it, like reading an old book, dug out from the attic.
The term ‘match’ comes from lengths of cord that were soaked in flammable liquids and dried out to be used for canons and other uses. Some were slow burning and some were fast burning.
China could arguably be credited with the invention of the match. Fires were lit using pinewood coated with sulphur in China at around AD 577 by Northern Qi court ladies for starting fires.
The first appearance of the match in Europe was around the year 1530, so it only took us Europeans around 1000 years to catch on to the idea. Which is pretty quick when compared to the time it takes for a car insurance claim after a car accident in modern times.
The assistant French professor K. Chancel invented the the first self-igniting match. This match was costly and dangerously unstable to use. The head of the match was a mixture of potassium chlorite, sugar, rubber and sulphur.
John Walker, an English chemist invented the first friction matches using gum, stibnite and potassium chlorite. These matches were patented and marketed under the brand name ‘Lucifer’. These matches smelt terrible and exploded into flame, sending a shower of sparks raining down at long distances.
White phosphorous was added to the mixture in 1830. To function, these matches had to be stored in airtight containers. In each pack there was reportedly enough phosphorous to kill a person. The workers who produced the matches developed bone disorders. These matches were banned in the end. The manufacturers, not surprisingly, didn’t really care because they were making money, but it was the result of a campaign by the general public that eventually resulted in the ban.
In 1836 the noiseless match appeared, although this was not a great leap in innovation, unless you were a cigar smoking spy relying on silence and stealth.
White phosphorous was eventually phased out and replaced by the ‘safety match’. These days safety matches refer to matches that cannot be struck anywhere but on the box. However, back in those days it reassured people that they could use these matches without being poisoned by dangerous white phosphorous.
So, all the hard work by innovators of the past has resulted in a match that only ignites with the box, aka. ‘the safety match’, doesn’t have to be kept in an airtight container, doesn’t explode or shower everyone with sparks and is not poisonous.
And how does this impact on us today? How would I know? I use a lighter of course…