April 7th, 1827 – Striking Matches

Today-In-History

John Walker (May 29th, 1781 – May 1st, 1859)

John Walker (May 29th, 1781 – May 1st, 1859)

The first successful friction match was invented in 1826 by English chemist John Walker, a chemist and druggist from Stockton-on-Tees. He developed a keen interest in trying to find a means of obtaining fire easily. Several chemical mixtures were already known which would ignite by a sudden explosion, but it had not been found possible to transmit the flame to a slow-burning substance like wood. While Walker was preparing a lighting mixture on one occasion, a match which had been dipped in it took fire by an accidental friction upon the hearth. He at once appreciated the practical value of the discovery, and started making friction matches. They consisted of wooden splints or sticks of cardboard coated with sulphur and tipped with a mixture of sulphide of antimony, chlorate of potash, and gum, the sulphur serving to communicate the flame to the wood.

Congreve_matchbox

A tin “Congreves” matchbox (1827)

Walker’s friction matches first went on sale on April 7th, 1827. The price of a box of 50 matches was one shilling. With each box was supplied a piece of sandpaper, folded double, through which the match had to be drawn to ignite it. He named the matches “Congreves” in honour of the inventor and rocket pioneer, Sir William Congreve. He did not divulge the exact composition of his matches. Between 1827 and 1829, Walker made about 168 sales of his matches. It was however dangerous and flaming balls sometimes fell to the floor burning carpets and dresses, leading to their ban in France and Germany. Walker either did not consider his invention important enough to patent or neglected it. In order for the splints to catch fire, they were often treated with sulfur and the odor was improved by the addition of camphor.

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