Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Matches part II : History

Before matches people use various methods to light a fire.The most popular methods were
1. Kept fire alive of a wildfire.
2. Use two piece of wood and grind them with each other. The friction made enough heat to light tinder. 
3. Use flit and Steel to make sparks and ignite the fuel
4. Use Lens to concentrate sunlight on fuel to ignite it.
After invention of matches all those process become obsolete and match takes place everywhere. Those crude methods are still used in survival situation and by very few tribes.
Now a days the use of matches also decreasing after introduction of efficient gas lighter in 1932 by Zippo and butene gas lighter in 1950s.

Earliest Matches:

Earliest reference of matches can be found as early as 600AD - 500AD in China (chinese are realy good with fire..)using sulphur.

In 1669  Hennig Brandt, an alchemist accidentally discovers phosphorus ( 15P ) while he was trying to make Gold using urine ( would you  use that if he would succeeded? ), this however first steps to modern matches.

In 1680's Robert Boyle (a profound physicist who discovers Boyle's Law ) coated a small piece of paper with phosphorous and coated a small piece of wood with Sulfur and rubbed the wood across the paper and created a fire just out of curiosity and made no effort to make new and inexpensive ways to create fire.

First modern, self-igniting match was invented in 1805 by Jean Chancel Paris. The head of the match consisted of a mixture of potassium chlorateSulfursugar, and rubber. The match was ignited by dipping its tip in a small asbestos bottle filled with sulfuric acid which was expensive and dangerously explosive.

Friction Matches:

The first "friction match" was invented in 1826 by English chemist John Walker. He dipped wood splint  a paste of sulfur, gumpotassium chlorate, sugar and antimony trisulfide. The match was drawn between a fold of sandpaper to ignite it. He made his first sell in  April 7, 1827 and sold around 168 of his matches till 1829. He never patented his invention.

In 1829,  Sir Isaac Holden invented an improved version of Walker's match and he didn't patented it either.He demonstrated it to his class at Castle Academy in Reading, Berkshire.

Gaining knowledge from this demonstration Samuel Jones, a chemist in London made his own version of match, patented it and named it Lucifer( lat. The Light-bearer ). This was popular among the smokers but infamous for its bad odour and violant flame.

In 1830, Frenchman Charles Sauria substituted the antimony sulfide with white phosphorus and made is odourless, less flammable. These matches should be kept in air-tight boxes but they become quickly popular.  The main problem was the white phosphorus was toxic and caused bone  diseases  in factory workers as well as users. One pack of this match contains enough toxin to kill a person thus it also become a tool of suicide( it still is but in different way ).

 With some improvement like use of bee-wax and paraffin instead of Sulfar to  remove odour, cover match sticks salts to prevent finger burning this type of matches continued to used as late as 1925 until most country banned them. 

Surprisingly though this kind of matches are not banned in USA, only have a huge tax on it.

By the way all above mentioned friction matches were "strike anywhere" matches i.e. it would ignite 

Safety Matches:

The safety matches actually have two fold safety. First use of Red Phosphorus instead of Toxic White Phosphorous and separation of the igniter and fuel. 

In 1844  Swede Gustaf Erik Pasch come up with the idea of removing phosphorus from the  tip of the match head and place it on a separate striking surface. Prior to this matches are prone to burst in flame by themselves if handle poorly.

In 1850  Anton Schrötter von Kristelli discovered red phosphorus.

In 1855 Johan Edvard Lundström improved the design of Pasch by using newly discovered Red Phosphorus on striking surface.He also patented his invention and had monopoly on safety matches.France and British investors bought their patent from Lundström brothers .

In 1890  American Joshua Pusey Invented match-book, called "Flexibles" which was bought by Dimond Match Company.

Meanwhile in France Henri Savene and Emile David Cahen developed safe matches using  phosphorus sesquisulfide In 1898.

Introduction of safe Red Phosphrous and Phosphorus sesquisulphide leads to gradual banning of white phosphorus matches in various country and huge tax in America on white phosphorus matches forced Dimond Match Company to bought Phosphorus sesquisulphide match patent in 1900 for $100,000.

Other US companies still manufacturing white phosphorus matches as the safety match design was patented.
By the initiative of US president  William Howard Taft, Dimond match company release the patent in 1911 and manufacturing of white phosphorous matches gradually decreased.

The future:

Introduction of Butene lighter, electric gas igniter start  reduced the popularity of matches from late 1950s. Still huge amount of match produced and used every year but their use are steadily declining to spacial purous uses only...still, only future knows the future. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Matches Part I : What and How

Matches, among many things,  we take for granted and fails to appreciate how clever their design is or how useful they are unless we are in trouble.

blah blah blah blah.........lets forget the philosophy and jump into the science of matches.


Matches use one of the most used phenomenon of the nature men use to light fire - FRICTION with some help of exothermic chemical reaction.

There are 3 parts in the modern friction Matches:

1. Igniter

2. Fire starter ( I know, I know igniter and fire starter almost same in meaning but can't find a better word in my limited vocabulary )
3. Fuel

Igniter : Modern day matches use mixture of Red Phosphorus , Powdered glass, carbon black            and binder. This placed on the side of the matchbox / matchbook for safety matches or at the tip of fire starter (match head ) for strike anywhere matches.

Fire starter : This is the mixture of  sulphur  , potassium chlorate,  glass powder and glue. This placed in the tip of matchsticks (match head).

Fuel : This is the matchstick itself which made of flammable materials like wood or wax paper.

To ignite a matchstick you have to "strike" it i.e. rub it very fast against the igniter surface ( for safety matches ) or a rough surface( for strike anywhere matches ). Due to presence of powdered glass this strikes generate enough frictional heat to convert some Red Phosphorus 

to white phosphorus which ignites instantly with the help of atmospheric Oxygen and the oxygen from potassium chlorate( the sparks we see while striking a match ). This starts burn the sulphur  rapidly ( the initial rapid flame). This burning sulphur ignites the matchsticks and we get sustained, uniform (mostly), slow burning flame to use.


(oops, sounds like tv show)

Seeing a video would better than my writing.

(paper-board matches in matchbook)

(wax matches in matchbox)

Videos are from you tube, not mine.
Further reading: