The Invention of the the Matches

inventionstories1.jpgThe first attempt to come up with something similar to a match as we know it today appeared late in the seventeen century. Godfrey Haukewitz was the assistant of the famous chemist Robert Boyle who had discovered the phosphorus. Haukewitz designed his invention using pieces of wood, sulphur and phosphorus, and the device would produce a small flame when frictioned. The only problem with the pseudo-match was the fact that it was poisonous and expensive.

It was not until the early 1800s that some forms of matches started appearing commercially. An English chemist named Jones created what he called the “Promethean Matches”, where he mixed the sulfur with chlorate of potash and sugar to improve the inflammability. Those matches, however, were not friction ignited but required a pair of pliers that were sold separately.

The final step occurred around 1830 when the phosphorus was substituted by antimony, creating the “congreve”. Those were the first real friction matches, and since the boxes were relatively cheap they acquired a huge popularity in many countries.

It is interesting how we tend to think that inventions appear overnight, with a solitary genius sitting on his desk and suddenly exclaiming Eureka! In reality the most important inventions have a very long period of maturation before they actually start changing people’s lives.

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