EVOLUTION OF THE MATCH

From The Rushlight, Vol. 1. No. 1; November 1934

Note: The Rushlight Club has recently published "The Friction Match - A Brief History" by Denis B. Alsford. This book is available while quantities last as a premium for new members.

The lucifer match has attained its present high state of perfection by a long series of inventions of various degrees of merit, the most important of which resulted from the progress of chemical science. Starting from the ingenious tinder box and lyrstan of our Saxon ancestors, the first attempt, so far as I know, to improve on the old sulphur match was made in 1805 by Chancel, a French chemist, who tipped cedar splints with a paste of chlorate of potash and sugar. On dipping one of these matches into a little bottle containing asbestos wetted with sulphuric acid and withdrawing it, it burst into flame. The contrivance was introduced into England some time after the battle of Waterloo, and was sold at a high price under the name of Prometheans. I remember being struck with amazement when I saw a match thus ignited.

Some time after this a man named Heurtner opened a shop on the Strand, opposite the church of St. Clement Dane. It was named the Lighthouse, and he added this inscription to the mural literature of London: "To save your knuckles, time and trouble, use Heurtner's euperion." An ornamental, open moiré metallique box containing fifty matches and the sulphuric acid asbestos bottle was sold for one shilling. It had a large sale, and was known in the kitchen as the Hugh Perry.

Heurtner also brought out vesuvians, consisting of a cartridge containing chlorate of potash and sugar, and a glass bead full of sulphuric acid. On pressing the end with a pair of nippers, the bead was crushed and the paste burst into flame. This contrivance was afterward more fully and usefully employed for firing the gunpowder in the railway fog signals.

We now cone to Walker. He was a druggist at Stockton-on-Tees, and in 1827 produced what we call congreves, never making use of the word Lucifer, which was not yet applied to matches. His splints were first dipped in sulphur and then tipped with the chlorate of potash paste, in which gun was substituted for sugar, and there was added a small quantity of sulphide of antimony. The match was ignited by being drawn through a fold of sand paper, with pressure; but it often happened that the tipped part was torn off without igniting, or, if ignited, it sometimes scattered balls of fire about, burning the carpet and even igniting a lady's dress. Those matches wore held to be so dangerous that they were prohibited by law in France and Germany.

Thc first grand improvement in the manufacture took place in 1833 by the introduction of phosphorus into the paste, and this seems to have suggested the word Lucifer, which the match has ever since retained. When phosphorus was first introduced to the match maker its price was four guineas a pound, but the demand became so great it had to be manufactured by the ton, and the price fell to half-a-crown a pound.

Notes and Queries, London
Contributed by H.G.Hubbard.
-- (Scientific American, June 16, 1934.)