According to the ancient Greeks, Prometheus brought fire from the Gods. The quest for ways to ignite a fire began about 1.5 million years ago, when the caveman discovered that he could start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.
Man had known the use of fire for cooking, for making metals from their ores, for warming himself in the cold and for light, all this he did with the accidental fires from forest fire or some other source. He did try to preserve the flame using some fuel or the other, but he did not know how to start a fire for thousands of years, Though he learned that fire can be started by rubbing two wooden rods, it was a very cumbersome and long drawn process with uncertain results many a times. Hence the quest for a method to make a fire.
The Chinese were transferring fire using sulphur coated sticks as early as A.D. 570.
The first step towards a modern, chemically lit match came in 1680, when British scientist Robert Boyle found he could create a flame by rubbing phosphorus-coated paper against a sulphur-tipped stick.
In 1827, English chemist John Walker began selling the first struck matches. His match ignited by friction from scraping the potassium chloride and antimony sulfide tips between a fold of sandpaper. These matches were a yard long and had an awful stench. Four years later Charles Sauria of France substituted white phosphorus for antimony sulfide to do away with the strong odour. Little did he know that he had added a deadly chemical. The white phosphorous contained in one pack of matches could kill a person. Match factory workers developed deformities of the bone, and several used the match to commit murders!!! There was an urgent need for a “safety match”.
It was Swedish scientist, Carl Lundstrom of Sweden who first introduced the “safety” matches in 1855. He replaced the white phosphorus with red phosphorus.
Sold in big wooden boxes, these matches though safe, were unwieldy. Their size embarrassed many cigar smokers. A well-known lawyer of Pennsylvania, Joshua Pusey was one of them. His name has gone down in history as the inventor of book matches. Made of paper, these were much lighter and smaller and very similar to today’s matchboxes.
The Diamond Match Company of the US, bought the rights of making match books from Pusey and became the first ever company to make book matches. They also replaced the red phosphorus with another safe chemical called sesquisulfide of phosphorous.
Fun facts :
* "Phillumeny" is the collecting of matchboxes, matchbox labels, and matchcovers.
* Sweden is now the biggest producer of matches in the world and
* The world's only Match Museum is in Jönköping, Sweden. To know more about the museum, go to http://www.jonkoping.se/kultur/matchmuseum/engindx.htm