Saturday, 26 March 2011


A match is a combustible tool for lighting a fire in controlled circumstances. They are commonly sold by tobacconists and many other kinds of shops. Matches are usually sold in quantity, packaged in match boxes or matchbooks. A match is typically a wooden stick (typical in the case of match boxes) or stiff paper stick (in the case of matchbooks) coated at one end with a material which will ignite from the heat of friction if struck against a suitable surface.[1] The lighting end of a match is known as the match "head" and, depending on type, either contains 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.

Match-type compositions may also be used to produce electric matches, which are fired electrically. These items do not rely on the heat of friction.


Historically, the term match referred to lengths of cord (later, cambric) impregnated with chemicals, and allowed to burn continuously.[1] These were used to light fires and fire guns (see Matchlock) and cannons (see Linstock). Such matches were characterised by their burning speed i.e. quick match and slow match. Depending on formulation, slow match burns at a rate of around 30 cm (1 ft) per hour and quick match at 4 to 60 centimetres (1.6 to 24 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 producing a relatively long-burning, coloured flame). But, when friction matches were developed, they became the main object meant by the term.

Early matches

Sulfur matches were apparently mentioned by Martial in ancient Rome (sulphurata).[2]

A predecessor of the match, small sticks of pinewood impregnated with sulfur were invented in China in AD 577. Besieged by military forces of Northern Zhou and Chen, Northern Qi court ladies were out of tinder and desperate for a means to start fires for cooking and heating.[3] 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 sulphur 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'.[3]

Matches also appeared in Europe by about 1530.[3] But the first modern, self-igniting match was invented in 1805 by K. Chancel, assistant to Professor Louis Jacques Thénard of Paris. The head of the match consisted of a mixture of potassium chlorate, sulfur,[4] sugar, and rubber. The match was ignited by dipping its tip in a small asbestos bottle filled with sulfuric acid. This kind of match was quite expensive and its usage was dangerous, so Chancel's matches never gained much popularity.

Friction matches

The first "friction match" was invented by English chemist John Walker in 1826.[5] Early work had been done by Robert Boyle and his assistant, Godfrey Haukweicz[6] in the 1680s with phosphorus and sulfur, but their efforts had not produced useful results. Walker discovered a mixture of antimony(III) sulfide or stibnite, potassium chlorate, gum, and starch could be ignited by striking against any rough surface. Walker called the matches congreves, but the process was patented by Samuel Jones and the matches were sold as lucifer matches. The early matches had a number of problems: the flame was unsteady and the initial reaction was disconcertingly violent; additionally, the odor produced by the burning match was unpleasant. It is described as a firework odor -- the pungent smell of sulfur dioxide. Lucifers reportedly could ignite explosively, sometimes throwing sparks a considerable distance. The term persisted as slang in the 20th century (for example in the First World War song Pack Up Your Troubles) and in the Netherlands today matches are still called lucifers.

In 1830, Frenchman Charles Sauria added white phosphorus to remove the odor. These new matches had to be kept in an airtight box but were popular. Unfortunately, those involved in the manufacture of the new matches were afflicted with phossy jaw and other bone disorders, and there was enough white phosphorus in one pack to kill a person. There was a vociferous campaign to ban these matches once the dangers became known.
Noiseless matches

The noiseless match was invented in 1836 by the Hungarian János Irinyi, who was a student of chemistry.[7] An unsuccessful experiment by his professor, Meissner, gave Irinyi the idea to replace potassium chlorate with lead dioxide[8] in the head of the phosphorus match.[7] He liquefied phosphorus in warm water and shook it in a glass foil, 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. The production of matches was now fully underway. István Rómer became rich and Irinyi himself went on to publish articles and a textbook on chemistry and founded several match factories.[7]
Re-formulation to remove white phosphorus

The early matches, including the noiseless match, were dangerous to both end users and the workers that made them. White phosphorus has a tendency to stick to the skin; the associated burns carry a greater risk of mortality than other forms of burns because of the absorption of phosphorus into the body through the burned area, resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases, multiple organ failure.

The search for a replacement for white phosphorus led to what was known as the "safety match." However, this term is potentially confusing nowadays, as it covers both the modern safety match and the modern strike-anywhere match. These two different types of matches are discussed separately below.

Both of these types of matches were more expensive to make than white phosphorus-based matches, and customers continued to buy white-phosphorus based matches. Laws prohibiting the use of white phosphorus in matches generally had to be passed before these safer types of matches came into widespread usage. Finland banned white-phosphorus based matches in 1872; Denmark in 1874; Sweden in 1879; Switzerland in 1881 and the Netherlands in 1901.

An agreement, the Berne Convention, was reached at Bern, Switzerland, in 1906 to prohibit the use of white phosphorus in matches.[9] This required each country to pass laws prohibiting the use of white phosphorus in matches. Great Britain passed a law in 1908 prohibiting its use in matches after 31 December 1910. The United States did not pass a law, but instead placed a "punitive tax" on white phosphorus-based matches, one so high as to render their manufacture financially impractical, in 1913. India and Japan banned them in 1919; and China in 1925.
The safety match
Household safety matches, including one burned match.

The safety match was invented in 1844 by the Swede Gustaf Erik Pasch (1788-1862) and was improved by Johan Edvard Lundström (1815-1888). Johan Edvard and his younger brother Carl Frans Lundström (1823-1917) started a large scale match industry in Jönköping around 1847, but the improved safety match was not introduced until around 1850-55. In 1858 their company produced around 12 million match boxes.

Their safety is due to the separation of the reactive ingredients between a match head on the end of a paraffin-impregnated splint and a special striking surface, and the replacement of white phosphorus with red phosphorus. The striking surface is composed of typically 25% powdered glass, 50% red phosphorus, 5% neutralizer, 4% carbon black and 16% binder; and the match head is typically composed of 45-55% potassium chlorate, with a little sulfur and starch, a neutralizer (ZnO or CaCO3), 20-40% of siliceous filler, diatomite and glue.[10] Some heads contain antimony(III) sulfide so they burn more vigorously. Safety matches ignite due to the extreme reactivity of phosphorus with the potassium chlorate in the match head. When the match is struck the phosphorus and chlorate mix in a small amount forming something similar to the explosive Armstrong's mixture which ignites due to the friction.

The Lundström brothers - Johan Edvard and Carl Frans - had obtained a sample of red phosphorus from Arthur Albright at The Great Exhibition, held at The Crystal Palace in 1851, and made safety matches with it.[11] They misplaced the matches and did not try them until just before the Paris Exhibition of 1855. They were still usable.[11]

The Swedes long held a virtual worldwide monopoly on safety matches, with the industry mainly situated in Jönköping, in 1903 called Jönköpings & Vulcans Tändsticksfabriks AB.[12] In France, they sold the rights to their safety match patent to Coigent Père & Fils of Lyon, but Coigent contested the payment in the French courts, on the basis that the invention was known in Vienna before the Lundström brothers patented it.[12] The British match manufacturer Bryant and May visited Jönköping in 1858 to try to obtain a supply of safety matches, but it was unsuccessful. In 1862 it established its own factory and bought the rights for the British safety match patent from the Lundström brothers.[12]

Safety matches are classified as dangerous goods, "U.N. 1944, Matches, safety," and they are not universally forbidden on aircraft; however, they must be declared as dangerous goods and individual airlines and/or countries may impose tighter restrictions.[13]

The longest known burn time of a single safety matchstick is over 50 seconds.[14]
The strike-anywhere match

Two French chemists, Savene and Cahen, developed a safety match using phosphorus sesquisulfide. They proved that the substance was not poisonous, that it could be used in a "strike-anywhere" match, and that the match heads were not explosive.[15] They patented a safety match composition in 1898 based on phosphorus sesquisulfide and potassium chlorate.[15] Albright and Wilson developed a safe means of making commercial quantities of phosphorus sesquisulfide in the United Kingdom in 1899 and started selling it to match makers.[16]

In 1901 Albright and Wilson started making phosphorus sesquisulfide at their Niagara Falls plant for the U.S. market, but American manufacturers continued to use white phosphorus based matches.[15] The Niagara Falls plant stopped making it until 1910, when the United States Congress forbade the shipment of white phosphorus matches in interstate commerce.[16] At the same time the largest producer of matches in the USA granted free use, in the USA, of its phosphorus sesquisulfide safety match patents.[16] In 1913 Albright and Wilson also started making red phosphorus at Niagara Falls.[16]

Strike-anywhere matches are classified as dangerous goods, "U.N. 1331, Matches, strike-anywhere;" and their carriage is illegal on both passenger aircraft and cargo-only aircraft.[13]
The energy in match heads

The chemicals in the heads of matches can be quite powerful in large numbers: Thirty thousand (30,000) match heads are sufficient to produce a 10-to-15-foot (3 to 5 m) fire column, compared to a 40-foot (10 m) burst with a million. On the television program MythBusters, special-effects experts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage demonstrated that a satchel of sixty thousand (60,000) match heads could send a 6-pound (3 kg) bowling ball flying 1,500 feet (500 m).[17] They also demonstrated 1000000 match heads.

Types of special-purpose matches

Storm matches, also known as lifeboat matches or flare matches, have an easy to strike tip like a normal match, but much of the stick is coated with a combustible compound which will keep burning even in a strong wind. They have a wax coating to make them waterproof, making them a component of many survival kits. This particular match was used in the first mass-produced Molotov cocktails.

"Bengal matches" are actually small hand-held fireworks akin to sparklers. They are similar to storm matches in form, but they include compounds of strontium or barium in the compound on the stick to produce a red or green flame respectively.

Matchbooks and matchboxes

The development of a specialized "matchbook" with both matches and a striking surface did not occur until the 1890s with the American Joshua Pusey, who later sold his patent to the Diamond Match Company. The Diamond Match Company was later bought by Bryant and May.

The hobby of collecting match-related items, such as matchcovers and matchbox labels, is known as phillumeny.

Fires due to lit matches

# The Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942, the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, was started when an artificial palm tree caught fire when a busboy struck a match[citation needed] for illumination while changing a light bulb.
# The King's Cross fire was a devastating underground fire in London on 18 November 1987 which killed 31 people. Evidence considered at the Public Enquiry into the fire concluded that it was initiated by rubbish and grease beneath wooden escalators being ignited, and that this was likely caused by a lighted match being dropped.[18] Smoking was banned on the Underground; there had been 48 previous escalator fires between 1955 and 1988, 31 of which were caused by smoking materials, and tests had shown that a lit match, but not a cigarette, could ignite the grease.[19]
# A 10-year-old boy playing with matches started the Buckweed Fire, of the October 2007 California wildfires. With a series of wildfires blazing across the southern part of the state, Buckweed burned over 38,000 acres (150 km2) of land and 63 structures.