A match is a tool for starting a fire. Typically, modern matches are made of small wooden sticks or stiff paper. One end is coated with a material that can be ignited by frictional heat generated by striking the match against a suitable surface.Wooden matches are packaged in matchboxes, and paper matches are partially cut into rows and stapled into matchbooks. The coated end of a match, known as the match "head", contains either phosphorus or phosphorus sesquisulfide as the active ingredient and gelatin as a binder. There are two main types of matches: safety matches, which can be struck only against a specially prepared surface, and strike-anywhere matches, for which any suitably frictional surface can be used. Some match-like compositions, known as electric matches, are ignited electrically and do not make use of heat from friction.
Historically, the term match referred to lengths of cord (later cambric) impregnated with chemicals, and allowed to burn continuously.These were used to light fires and fire guns and cannons.Such matches were characterised by their burning speed i.e. quick match and slow match. Depending on its formulation, a slow match burns at a rate of around 30 cm (1 ft) per hour and a quick match at 4 to 60 centimetres (1.6 to 23.6 in) per minute.
The modern equivalent of this sort of match is the simple fuse, still used in pyrotechnics to obtain a controlled time delay before ignition.The original meaning of the word still persists in some pyrotechnics terms, such as black match (a black-powder-impregnated fuse) and Bengal match (a firework akin to sparklers producing a relatively long-burning, coloured flame). But, when friction matches became commonplace, they became the main object meant by the term.
The word "match" derives from Old French "mèche" referring to the wick of a candle.
A note in the text Cho Keng Lu, written in 1366, describes a sulfur match, small sticks of pinewood impregnated with sulfur, used in China by "impoverished court ladies" in AD 577 during the conquest of Northern Qi.During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907–960), a book called the Records of the Unworldly and the Strange written by Chinese author Tao Gu in about 950 stated:
If there occurs an emergency at night it may take some time to make a light to light a lamp. But an ingenious man devised the system of impregnating little sticks of pinewood with sulfur and storing them ready for use. At the slightest touch of fire they burst into flame. One gets a little flame like an ear of corn. This marvellous thing was formerly called a "light-bringing slave", but afterwards when it became an article of commerce its name was changed to 'fire inch-stick'.
Another text, Wu Lin Chiu Shih, dated from 1270 AD, lists sulphur matches as something that was sold in the markets of Hangzhou, around the time of Marco Polo's visit. The matches were known as fa chu or tshui erh.
The friction match
Chemical matches were unable to make the leap into mass production, due to the expense, their cumbersome nature and inherent danger. An alternative method was to produce the ignition through friction produced by rubbing two rough surfaces together. An early example was made by François Derosne in 1816. His crude match was called a briquet phosphorique and it used a sulfur-tipped match to scrape inside a tube coated internally with phosphorus. It was both inconvenient and unsafe.
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.
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.
In 1829, Scots inventor Sir Isaac Holden invented an improved version of Walker's match and demonstrated it to his class at Castle Academy in Reading, Berkshire. Holden did not patent his invention and claimed that one of his pupils wrote to his father Samuel Jones, a chemist in London who commercialised his process.A version of Holden's match was patented by Samuel Jones, and these were sold as lucifer matches. These early matches had a number of problems - an initial violent reaction, an unsteady flame and unpleasant odor and fumes. Lucifers could ignite explosively, sometimes throwing sparks a considerable distance. Lucifers were manufactured in the United States by Ezekial Byam.The term "lucifer" persisted as slang in the 20th century (for example in the First World War song Pack Up Your Troubles) and in the Netherlands and Belgium today matches are still called lucifers (in Dutch).
Lucifers were however quickly replaced after the discovery in 1830 by Frenchman Charles Sauria who substituted the antimony sulfide with white phosphorus.These new phosphorus matches had to be kept in airtight metal boxes but became popular. In England, these phosphorus matches were called "Congreves" after Sir William Congreve while they went by the name of loco foco in the United States. The earliest American patent for the phosphorus friction match was granted in 1836 to Alonzo Dwight Phillips of Springfield, Massachusetts.
From 1830 to 1890, the composition of these matches remained largely unchanged, although some improvements were made. In 1843 William Ashgard replaced the sulfur with beeswax, reducing the pungency of the fumes. This was replaced by paraffin in 1862 by Charles W. Smith, resulting in what were called "parlor matches". From 1870 the end of the splint was fireproofed by impregnation with fire-retardant chemicals such as alum, sodium silicate, and other salts resulting in what was commonly called a "drunkard's match" that prevented the accidental burning of the user's fingers. Other advances were made for the mass manufacture of matches. Early matches were made from blocks of woods with cuts separating the splints but leaving their bases attached. Later versions were made in the form of thin combs. The splints would be broken away from the comb when required.
A noiseless match was invented in 1836 by the Hungarian János Irinyi, who was a student of chemistry.An unsuccessful experiment by his professor, Meissner, gave Irinyi the idea to replace potassium chlorate with lead dioxide in the head of the phosphorus match.He liquefied phosphorus in warm water and shook it in a glass vial, until it became granulated. He mixed the phosphorus with lead and gum arabic, poured the paste-like mass into a jar, and dipped the pine sticks into the mixture and let them dry. When he tried them that evening, all of them lit evenly. Irinyi thus invented the noiseless match. He sold the invention to István Rómer, a match manufacturer. Rómer, a Hungarian pharmacist living in Vienna, bought the invention and production rights from Irinyi for 60 forints (about 22.5 oz t of silver). Rómer became rich and Irinyi went on to publish articles and a textbook on chemistry, and founded several match factories.