When I think of the old West, I’ve always pictured a weathered cowboy gathering wood and lighting a campfire on a cold winter’s night. Fire has been critical to survival since cave man days. But getting heat when you needed it back then was not ever easy. It usually involved rubbing sticks together or striking flint.
I remember the big box of Diamond kitchen safety matches that my mom kept above the cookstove and the matchbook my dad kept in his shirt pocket in the days when he smoked.
So I started wondering when exactly matches came along.
I recently read that Charles Sauria of France created the first matchstick in 1830. It was made of white phosphorous and it had an extremely strong odor when lit. They were highly poisonous and posed a serious health risk to factory workers. They caused a necrosis in the bones of the face, especially the jaw. It was referred to as “phossy” jaw. The picture I saw was pretty gross.
(Phosphorous scraped from a single pack of matches produced enough poison to commit suicide or murder, both of which were commonly reported.)
**A side note: The first matches were called Lucifers.**
In 1855, John Lundstrom came up with a red phosphorous match. It didn’t cause the phossy jaw disease but was extremely costly to make, therefore impractical.
In America, there were many match manufacturers. The largest by far was the Diamond Match Company owned by O.C. Barber. It came along in 1881, the same year the gunfight at the OK Corral took place. Their safety matches were well received and embraced by cowboys and regular folk alike. The company was recognized by President Howard Taft. He convinced them to forfeit their patent for humanitarian reasons and they were given an award for eliminating serious occupational health disease.
Finally, Diamond created the first non-poisonous match in 1910 and gave us the matches we’re familiar with. I’m mighty glad they did. Striking matches was a dangerous business.
30,000 match heads can form a 10-15 ft. column of flame
A satchel holding only 60,000 match heads can create enough firepower to propel a 6 lb. bowling ball 1500 ft.
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