Little Bits of History

Light My Fire

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 7, 2010

Match afire

April 7, 1827: John Walker, an English chemist, invents the friction match. Fire is necessary for many tasks humans need to perform. Cooking is a major one and in the past heating and light came from fire, as well. Getting a fire started today is quite easy. But it wasn’t always so.

The first matches were chemically soaked cords that were continually burning and used to light other fires. They could burn either fast or slow and were classified as such. They burned at the rate of 1-15 seconds per centimeter. They were similar in design to today’s fuses.

Early precursor matches were developed in China in 577 and were small sticks of pinewood impregnated with sulfur. In 1805 the first modern match was created. The tip was coated with chemicals and it was stuck into a bottle of sulfuric acid to get a flammable reaction. It was both volatile and expensive.

Early work done in the 1680s by Robert Boyle laid the groundwork for Walker’s new kind of match. Walker’s match could light by striking it against any rough surface. The resulting flame was not at all safe, however, and threw sparks – sometimes for several feet – and ignited unintended objects. It was also very stinky because it used sulfur. In 1830 Charles Sauria added white phosphorus and got rid of the offensive odor. The safety match was a refinement that was introduced in 1836. Book matches came on the scene in 1889. Today, there are also special purpose matches, such as storm matches. They are able to light when struck against any rough surface, but the stick itself is also coated with chemicals to keep them burning even in strong winds. The entire match is covered with a thin coat of wax, making them waterproof.

“Fire is never a gentle master.” – Proverb

“There can be no great smoke arise, but there must be some fire.” – John Lyly

“People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” – Abigail Van Buren

“He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire.  Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.” – W.J. Cameron

Also on this day, in 1969 RFC-1 was published, the beginning of the Internet.

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6 Responses

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