As per the researchers, the oldest discovered evidence of cavemen making fire is about 300,000 to 400,000 years ago which was found in the Qesem Cave, Israel. I wonder how they discovered the method of making fire. By the time you and I arrived in this world, matches or lighter had already been invented and widely used. Yet, a major part of us did not know about the history of matches and lighters. So, let us today find it out.
A thin, small stick made of wood with one tip covered in a material that gets ignited when rubbed against the felt-like surface is known as a match or matchstick. The coated end of the match is known as the head which is made of active ingredients that are bound together to stick to the tip of the match, often in dark red to brown color. (See How does a Fire Hydrant work?)
A portable device made of plastic or metal that is filled with flammable liquid gas that generates flame is known as a lighter. The container is mainly made up of metal or plastic that is lighted by a manual switch, but new lighters can be powered with electricity or a battery. (See How Lighters Work?)
3. History of Matches and Lighters
To mention the history of matches or lighter, you have to go through many stories and records.
- A Chinese author Tao Gu wrote the Records of the Unworldly and the Strange in 950 during the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-979). In this book, he recorded the use of little pinewood sticks filled with sulfur for igniting a fire at night during an emergency. These sticks used to burst into flames when brought near the fire, and it was named the light bringing slave. But afterward, it was renamed a fire inch-stick.
- Johann Wolfgang Dobereiner, a German chemist was recorded as the inventor of the lighter in 1823. It was based on hydrogen gas, zinc, and sulfuric acid and came to be known as Döbereiner’s Lamp or Fuerzeug.
- In 1270 AD, another record by Wu Lin Chiu Shih mentioned during Marco Polo’s visit to China, that sulfur matches were sold in the markets of Hangzhou. During that period, Chinese people called matches fa chu or tshui erh.
- Later on, in 1366, Cho Keng Lu, mentioned in his writings that during the Conquest of Northern Qi, in AD 577, impoverished ladies were using pinewood sticks filled with sulfur. However, the actual matches were said to be invented somewhere around 1826. (See History of Dark Room Film)
4. Invention of Chemical Matches
The first self-igniting matchsticks were invented in 1805. The heads of the matchsticks were covered with a mixture of sugar, sulfur, potassium chlorate, and gum Arabic. The assistant of Professor Louis Jacques Thenard of Paris, Jean Chancel invented these chemical matches. To ignite them, they were dipped with their heads in the sulfur-filled small asbestos bottle. These matches turned out to be more expensive and dangerous for common people and were not widely used. (See Some Cocktails that Glow under Black Light)
5. Invention of Promethean Matches
Making fire with matches or lighter was a danger in itself and that included various dangerous inventions too. The one is a Promethean match that was patented by Samuel Jones in 1828, in London. These matches consisted of the indigo-colored chemical composition of sulfuric acid filled inside a capsule which was coated with potassium chlorate on its exterior. These capsules were rolled in paper and to ignite these matches, one has to crush these paper rolls with pliers due to which the ingredients come together, and a chemical reaction takes place. (See Why Are Fire Trucks Red?)
6. Invention of Lighting Cigars
Lighting cigars with a matchstick gave birth to the one invented in 1849 by Heurtner who was the owner of a shop named Lighthouse in the Strand. He had another version of these strands which were used in the kitchen, and he called them Euperion, and it was nicknamed Hugh Perry. Another was Vesuvian or flamer, which was mainly for outdoor purposes. These matches were made of long hardwood to increase the burning time while the heads were covered in wood dust, charcoal, nitre, and phosphorus. (See How do Solar Powered Lights work?)
7. Invention of Wax Threads
In 1832, a wax stem that was filled with cotton thread with a phosphorus tip was patented by William Newton in England. Other variants of the same style were made in 1836 by Savaresse and Merckel. (See What is the Color of Fire?)
8. Invention of Friction Matches
An English chemist, John Walker, invented the first safe version of friction matches in 1826 that you use today. Further, in matches or lighter, these were sticks of wood or sticks of cardboard that were coated with sulfur, and its head was topped with chlorate of potash, gum, and sulfide of antimony mixture. Each box was accompanied by a piece of folded sandpaper on which the head of the match was rubbed to ignite it.
The modern-day matches come in a box that is produced with striking surfaces on its side. These surfaces are composed of
- Red phosphorus 50%
- Powdered glass or other abrasives 25%
- Binder 16%
- Neutralizer 5%
- Black carbon 4%
While the stick head contains
- Potassium chlorate 45-55%
- Siliceous filter, glue, and diatomite 20-40%
- Sulfur, starch, and neutralizer a little (See What Tools does a Cobbler use?)
9. Invention of Zippo Lighter
In 1910, Ronson Consumer Products Corporation manufactured easy-to-use lighters, Pist-O-Liter. Then, in 1913, the company released the first lighter and named it Wonderlite. Later in 1932, an American inventor George Grant Blaisdell invented and founded the Zippo lighter. These lighters used naphtha (a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture) as a fuel source and were known for their windproof claim and lifetime warranty. (See Who Invented the Sticky Note?)
10. Butane Flame in Matches or Lighter
With the continuous invention, these lighters became more advanced and their fuel changed from naphtha to butane, which was a much more reliable option. Butane flames are controllable and it has fewer odors. Further, the use of Piezoelectric spark in the lighters replaced the flint.
11. New Varieties of Matches
Other than friction matches, there are strikes anywhere matches and safety matches. The former can be ignited by striking against any suitable frictional surface while the latter can be ignited only when rubbed against the special surface provided with the box. (See What is the Best Lava Lamp to Buy?)
12. Types of Lighters
In this topic of the invention of matches or lighter, just like matches, lighters also saw invention and improvisation.
- Automobile lighters are found in vehicles either on the dashboard or in the well between front seats.
- Catalytic lighters use methanol as fuel and a thin plating, wire that heats up and produces fire.
- The electric arc lighter ignites by using the spark between the electrodes
- Flameless lighters do not produce flames, but it has an element that heats up and works as a fire
- Jet lighters produce blue flames and use electric arc while some burn without any combustion
- Match lighter is a long stick that produces light flames
- A permanent match lighter has a metal shell filled with naphtha and keeps the flame alive until blown out by the user.
I guess the journey towards the history of matches and lighters was pretty interesting. So, what do you prefer matches or lighter? Both are equally significant in their own ways. (Also read What are Some Examples of Artifacts?)