- Ether Anesthesia
- Post-it Notes
- Stainless Steel
Fire plays a vital role in our everyday lives, and although we take it for granted, fire wasn't always so readily available. It wasn't until 1826, when the stick an English pharmacist had been using to stir chemicals burst into flame, that the strikeable match was born.
The secret ingredient of the match, phosphorus, was actually discovered in 1669 by a German alchemist named Hennig Brand.
While searching for the philosopher's stone, a substance believed to transmute base metals into gold, Brand developed a mineral substance that burned with light for hours and hours. Hoping to somehow use this substance to create massive quantities of gold, Brandt kept his discovery secret for years.
The next major development in match history came from an English nobleman and Chemist named Robert Boyle.
By rubbing phosphorous and sulfur together, Boyle was able to create fire at will. Despite its obvious benefits, Boyle's discovery would not be enjoyed by the masses for nearly one hundred and fifty years.
- For the first hundred years after its discovery, the original source for solid phosphorous was urine.
- Phosphorous is also used to create fertilizers, pesticides, and rodenticides.
- Jones' Lucifer matches included the warning: "If possible, avoid inhaling gas that escapes from the combustion of the black composition. Persons whose lungs are delicate should by no means use the lucifers."
- Phillumeny is the hobby of collecting matchbook covers.
- More than a dozen raw materials are required to create a matchstick.
- The Diamond Match Company manufacturers more than a million matchsticks an hour.
- The cigarette lighter was invented before the match. In 1816, a German chemist named J.W. Dobereiner devised a way of automatically igniting a jet of hydrogen. Unfortunately, it required powdered platinum to act as a catalyst.
In 1827, an English pharmacist named John Walker had just finished stirring a pot of chemicals when he noticed that the stick he'd been using to stir the pot had a dried lump on one end.
Instinctively, Walker tried to scrape the substance off the end of the stick. Although not containing phosphorous, the mixture of antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, gum, and starch was reactive enough that when he dragged it across the floor, the stick burst into flame. The strikeable match was born!
Walker began to sell his "friction lights" at a local bookstore. Pasteboard match "sticks", three inches in length, came in a round "pillar-box" with a small piece of folded sandpaper.
Despite their harsh odor and inability to light reliably, the friction lights gained popularity and local financiers prodded Walker to monopolize on the success. Walker, however, had no interest and freely demonstrated his new technology to interested inventors.
When asked why he didn't patent his invention, Walker replied, "If they want them, let them have 'em."
Because it wasn't patented, Walker's strikeable match could be freely and legally copied by anyone. Samuel Jones was the first.
Jones' idea to sell his "Lucifer" matches in a small, cardboard box may be his most influential invention, but his promethean match is clearly the most interesting. The match head was composed of a glass vial of sulphuric acid wrapped in a flammable, paper coating. When crushed, say by the user's teeth, the acid would ignite the paper.
As a match-race was heating up in Great Britain, a French chemist named Charles Sauria mixed sulfur, antimony, potash, and phosphorus, resulting in the first strike-anywhere match. The new, phosphorous-based formula lit more reliably than and eliminated the potent odor problem of the friction lights.
Unfortunately, these early strike-anywhere matches were too lenient with the term "anywhere." These matches were likely to spontaneously combust when crushed, and the spark when they lit was more akin to an explosion.
Furthermore, the white phosphorous used in the match heads was extremely poisonous. Because sugar was used in the match tips, children were prone to sucking on them, causing infant skeletal deformities and fatalities.
"Match girls" traditionally delivered large cases of matches by carrying them on their heads. Most were bald by the time there were 15 as a result of their contact with white phosphorous.
Match factory workers regularly died of "phossy jaw," a form of bone cancer found most often in the jaw.
This changed in 1855 when Swedish match factory owner Johan Edvard Lundstrom developed the first safety match using red phosphorous.
Lundstrom also separated the flammable elements of matches, placing part in the match tip and part in the striking surface. The result was a match that couldn't spontaneously combust.
Today over 500 billion matches are used each year, with about 200 billion from matchbooks. It then makes sense that the phrase, "Close Cover Before Striking", is the most printed phrase in the English language.