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A Primer on Matches

image of matchstick being lit

Yes, we love lighting our candles, incense, oil warmers, cigars, and pipes, but if you\\\'ve been on THIS site for longer than 30 seconds, you\\\'ve got a thing for matches, you little pyro.

In the years it took me to develop these match holders, I have learned more about matches than I ever wanted to know -- history, production, U.S. and international markets, shipping, clubs, safety matches vs. strike anywhere matches, phosphorus, and more.

Found some great stuff on YouTube about how matches are made. This first video shows breaks down how matches actually work. In the words of Walter White, "Respect the chemistry."

These next 2 videos are from a match manufacturer in Chile, and they show the entire match production process, from tree to match box. It really makes me appreciate the intense amount of manual labor that goes into the whole process. How do you say "matches" in Spanish? Cerillas!

A match production factory was the backdrop to an outsider\'s love story (kind of) in the Finnish film The Match Factory Girl.

Matches have a fascinating history. Do you know how ANCIENT these things are?

A predecessor of the match, small sticks of pinewood impregnated with sulfur were invented in China in AD 577. Besieged by military forces of Northern Zhou and Chen, Northern Qi court ladies were out of tinder and desperate for a means to start fires for cooking and heating. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907-960), a book called the Records of the Unworldly and the Strange written by Chinese author Tao Gu in about 950 stated: 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. One gets a little flame like an ear of corn. This marvellous thing was formerly called a "light-bringing slave", but afterwards when it became an article of commerce its name was changed to \\\'fire inch-stick\\\'. (Source: The Match on Wikipedia)

In 1669, phosphorous was discovered - phosphorous was soon used in match heads.

In 1680, an Irish physicist named Robert Boyle (Boyle\'s Law) coated a small piece of paper with phosphorous and coated a small piece of wood with sulfur. He then rubbed the wood across the paper and created a fire. However, there was no useable match created by Robert Boyle.

In 1827, John Walker, English chemist and apothecary, discovered that if he coated the end of a stick with certain chemicals and let them dry, he could start a fire by striking the stick anywhere. These were the first friction matches. The chemicals he used were antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, gum, and starch. Walker did not patent his "Congreves" as he called the matches (alluding to the Congreve\\\'s rocket invented in 1808). Walker was a former chemist at 59 High Street, in Stockton-on-Tees, England. His first sale of the matches was on April 7, 1827, to a Mr. Hixon, a solicitor in the town. Walker made little money from his invention. He died in 1859 at the age of 78 and is buried in the Norton Parish Churchyard in Stockton. (br1781- d1859)

One Samuel Jones saw Walker\'s "Congreves" and decided to market them, calling his matches "Lucifers" "Lucifers" became popular especially among smokers, but they had a bad burning odor.

In 1830, the French chemist, Charles Sauria, created a match made with white phosphorous. Sauria\'s matches had no odor, but they made people sick with a ailment dubbed "phossy jaw". White phosphorous is poisonous.

In 1855, safety matches were patented by Johan Edvard Lundstrom of Sweden. Lundstrom put red phosphorus on the sandpaper outside the box and the other ingredients on the match head, solving the problem of "phossy jaw" and creating a match that could only be safely lit off the prepared, special striking, surface.

In 1889, Joshua Pusey invented the matchbook, he called his matchbook matches "Flexibles". Pusey\'s patent was unsuccessfully challenged by the Diamond Match Company who had invented a similar matchbook (their striker was on the outside, Pusey\'s was on the inside). His patent was later purchased by the Diamond Match Company in 1896 for $4,000 and a job offer.

In 1910, the Diamond Match Company patented the first nonpoisonous match in the U.S., which used a safe chemical called sesquisulfide of phophorous. United States President William H. Taft publicly asked Diamond Match to release their patent for the good of mankind. They did on January 28, 1911, Congress placed a high tax on matches made with white phosphorous. (Source: A History of Matches on About.com)

Other great online resources about marvelous matches:
The art of collecting matchbooks on The Matchbook Museum
A graphic of the match production process, explaining the machinery and everything from Arenco, a Swedish engineering company that designs and manufactures match machinery and solutions for high-speed product transportation, handling and packaging and machinery for pelagic fish processing. (Yes, *and* fish processing.)


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