Who invented the matches?

Ever since Prometheus gave people fire, the task of mankind arose to extract the gift just when it was needed. In ancient times, this problem was solved by patiently rubbing dry wood against each other, and later by flint flint. Then there appeared smeared with gray chips, but not yet as a means of making fire, but only as a kindling - they needed fire to light them. The first mention of such chips belong to the X century (China). However, primitive matches were ignited by the slightest spark, and it was so convenient for lighting lamps that the Chinese poet Tao Gu called them “luminiferous servants” in his book.

The history of matches as a means of generating fire began with the discovery of phosphorus in 1669 by the alchemist Brandt. In 1680, the Irish physicist Robert Boyle (the one whose name was called the Boyle-Marriott law) covered phosphorus with a strip of paper and, striking it with a wooden match with a sulfur head, got fire ... but did not attach any significance to it. As a result, the invention of matches was late for more than a century - until 1805, when the French chemist Jean Chansel proposed his version of a match with a head made of a mixture of sulfur, potassium chloride and sugar. The kit included a bottle of sulfuric acid, where it was necessary to dip the matches in order to light them.

Until recently, a box of matches was an absolutely necessary item in each and every house.

In 1826, British pharmacist John Walker invented the first matches ignited by friction. He made a match head from a mixture of sulfur, potassium chlorate, sugar and antimony sulfide, and ignition made by striking on sandpaper. True, Walker's matches burned unsteadily, scattering the burning mixture, which often led to fires, and therefore their sale was banned in France and Germany. And in 1830, the French chemist Charles Zauria replaced antimony sulfide with white phosphorus.

Such matches burned perfectly, ignited with one movement of the head on any rough surface, but ... the smell of burning and spraying white phosphorus was terrible. In addition, white phosphorus turned out to be very toxic - “phosphoric necrosis” quickly became a professional disease for match factory workers. One matchstick pack contained a lethal dose of white phosphorus at that time, and suicides with swallowed match heads became common.

Replacing toxic and flammable white phosphorus was not easy to find. This could be done by the Swedish chemist Gustav Eric Pash, who in 1844 realized one simple thing: if a match is ignited by mechanical contact of sulfur and phosphorus, it is not necessary to put phosphorus in a match head - just put it on a rough surface, which is striking! This decision, along with the discovery of red phosphorus just in time (which, unlike white, does not ignite in air and is much less toxic), formed the basis for the first truly safe matches. And in 1845, two other Swedes - the brothers Johan and Karl Lundströmy - founded a company that made safe matches a mass product, and the name "Swedish matches" was a household name.

The article “Lightbringer Servants” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 10, October 2013).


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