Who Is The Inventor Of Matchstick? And Why Is It Called Safety Match?

Fire, we use it for cooking food, forging of materials, keeping our bodies warm during the winter, and many other processes that require or involve the use of it. Since the discovery of fire at roughly thousands of years ago, ancient people already learned how to utilize it and developed various ways to produce fire.

There are several primitive ways to start a fire, which requires a lot of effort before producing results. These early methods of producing fire became inefficient over the year since people used to travel more and other causes.

Due to the rapid development in our world’s civilization, several people tried to develop various methods of creating fire to cope up with the necessity of society. Among these inventions include the matchstick, which is significantly easier to use compared to other primitive ways of producing fire.

A match is a tool used in starting a fire, and they come in different forms and designs. Its appearance looks very simple as it shows a small stick with a coating in one end. The coated end of the matchstick is what allows it to ignite when exposed to friction.

Interestingly, the matchstick comes in two main types – safety matches and strike-anywhere matches. Both of these types produce incredible results. Despite their differences, they both originated from the same concept.

In this article, we are going to look into what a matchstick is, as well as its history.

History of Matchstick

We can trace back the origins of matchsticks to hundreds of years ago, wherein several scientists conduct experiments to develop a way to produce fire easier. A milestone to this study was made in 1669, when the alchemist Hennig Brand, discovered the flammable nature of phosphorus. This principle brought new ideas to other scientists, and that’s was when the Irish inventor, Robert Boyle, came into the scene. Boyle, along with his assistant, Ambrose Godfrey, invented the matchstick in 1961. Boyle based his original version of the matchstick from the principles developed by Brand. However, despite its capability in creating fire, it did not become popular because of several safety hazards. Boyle’s version of the matchstick ignites even on slight unintended friction, which made it a potential cause of accidental fires. This aggressive nature of the matchstick is due to Boyle’s highly combustible mixture of Sulphur and phosphorus on the tips of the matches, which is very sensitive even to weak friction. During that time, the cost of Boyle’s matchstick is higher than expected and was responsible for many accidental fires.

Several versions of the matchsticks came out after the invention of Boyle. However, most of them failed to gain recognition due to impractical designs and costs.

Fast forward to 1826, when the English chemist and druggist from Stockton-on-Tees, John Walker, invented the first successful friction match. Similar to other scientists, Walker conducted various experiments in hopes of developing an easier method to generate fire. His invention is somehow a product of accident, wherein he accidentally dipped a match on the lighting mixture he was preparing on one occasion. To his surprise, the match lit upon having friction on the floor. This discovery led him to create friction matches. He manufactured the matchsticks and sold them for one shilling each box – usually consists of 50 matches. The market of Walker’s matchsticks became successful and gained recognition for other countries as well. However, despite its improved design, safety hazards are still inclined with the matchsticks. These hazards include the accidental burning of floors and other household items, which led to its ban in some countries.

What is a safety match?

After the invention of John Walker, several other versions of the matchstick were introduced by various inventors. One of the most remarkable versions of the matchstick was the safety matches conceptualized by Swede Gustaf Erik Pasch. He was responsible for developing the idea of using a specific striking surface in lighting matches, which drastically reduced the potential danger. In 1844, Pasch patented his process of using red phosphorus in a striking surface.

Safety matches started to gain recognition in different places due to its safer design. It is evident that the name, safety match came from its principle, which is a more reliable way of producing fire. This version of the matchstick consisted of a stick and a striking surface, which are two separate materials required to generate fire. When the match head creates friction with the striking surface, a chemical reaction takes place and results in a fire.