The first “friction match” was invented by John Walker, an English chemist, in 1826. He discovered that a stick coated with chemicals (antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, and etc.) could start a fire when he scraped it across his hearth at home. The first “friction matches”, commonly known as the “Lucifers”, didn’t give rise to phosphorus necrosis. They however caused explosive ignition and unpleasant odour.
A few years later, Charles Sauria, a French chemist, invented new matches that solved the Lucifers’ problems, but they began the dread of phosphorus necrosis among factory workers as they contained white phosphorus.
In 1844, matches with no poisonous white phosphorus were born. They were invented by Gustaf Erik Pasch, a Swedish professor in Chemistry. Non-toxic, less inflammable red phosphorus replaced the culprit of phossy jaw and it was coated on the outer surface of the match box. The matches didn’t burn spontaneously and hence the name “safety matches”.
There was not only advancement in the chemistry of matches, but also engineering in the manufacturing process. The first automatic match machine was designed by Alexander Lagerman, a Swedish engineer, in 1864.
Production of matches with red phosphorus was introduced in the UK by the Salvation Army in 1891. The matches were called “Lights in Darkest England” by the founder of the Army, General William Booth. These old match boxes are on display in the Museum of London.
Phosphorus necrosis finally came to an end.
- Raw, Louise. 2011. Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and Their Place in History. Continuum Publishing Corporation.
- Swedish Match. Updated on 21 Oct 2009. “History of Matches.” http://www.swedishmatch.com/en/Our-business/Lights/History-of-matches/