1902 Encyclopedia > Matches


MATCHES. Till the close of the 18th century flint and steel with tinder box and sulphur-tipped splints of wood—"spunks"or matches—were the common means of obtaining fire for domestic and other purposes. The sparks struck off by the percussion of flint and steel were made to fall among the tinder, which consisted of carbonized frag-ments of cotton and linen; the entire mass of the tinder was set into a glow, developing sufficient heat to ignite the sulphur with which the matches were tipped, and thereby the splints themselves were set on fire. Instead of tinder, match-paper or touch-paper, a thick bibulous paper impreg-nated with saltpetre (nitrate of potash), and amadou or German tinder, a thick leathery and porous preparation from the fungus Polyporus fomentarius, were often used.

It was not till 1805 that any attempt was made to use chemical agency for the ordinary production of fire. In that year M. Chancel, assistant to Professor Thenard of Paris, introduced an apparatus consisting of a small bottle containing asbestos, saturated with strong sulphuric acid, with splints or matches coated with sulphur, and tipped with a mixture of chlorate of potash and sugar. The matches so prepared, when brought into contact with the sulphuric acid in the bottle, ignited, and thus, by chemical action, fire was produced. It appears also that in the same year phosphorus matches were known in Paris, and in 1809 Derepas proposed to lessen the dangerously great inflamma-bility of the phosphorus match by making an igniting mixture of that element with magnesia. It is also said that M. Derosne made a friction match with a phosphorus tip in 1816. Again in 1823 a phosphorus match was pro-posed, but it came into little use. In this case the composi-tion consisted of equal parts of phosphorus and sulphur cautiously melted together in a glass tube. The tube was then securely corked, and, to obtain a light, a splint was introduced into the mixture, and a small pellet detached, which on withdrawal and exposure almost spontaneously ignited. In that year (1823) a decided impetus was given to the artificial evolution of fire by the introduction of the DSbereiner lamp, so called after its inventor Professor Dobereiner of Jena. The action of this elegant invention depends on the remarkable property possessed by spongy or highly porous platinum of determining the combination of hydrogen and oxygen and the formation of water at common atmospheric temperatures. In the Dobereiner lamp hydrogen is evolved in a suitable vessel by the action of zinc on acidulated water. The gas so liberated, when required, is passed through a fine orifice by means of a stop-cock, and impinging on a mass of spongy platinum mounted in a frame it combines with oxygen of the air, thereby developing an intense heat, which quickly causes the platinum to glow, and ultimately is sufficiently intense to set the stream of hydrogen itself on fire. The Dobereiner lamp is still occasionally seen, but it is chiefly used in connexion with chemical lectures.

The first really practical friction matches were made in England in 1827, by Mr John Walker, a druggist of Stockton-on-Tees. These were known as " Congreves " after Sir William Congreve, Bart., the inventor of the Congreve rocket, and consisted of wooden splints or sticks of cardboard coated with sulphur and tipped with a mixture of sulphide of antimony, chlorate of potash, and gum. With each box of eighty-four, which was retailed at a shilling, there was supplied a folded piece of glass paper, the folds of which were to be tightly pressed together, while the match was drawn through between them. In 1830 the so-called " Prometheans" were patented by Mr S. Jones of London. These consisted of a short roll of paper with a small quantity of a mixture of chlorate of potash and sugar at one end, a thin glass globule of strong sulphuric acid being attached at the same point. When the sulphuric acid was liberated by pinching the glass globule, it acted on the mixed chlorate and sugar, pro-ducing fire.

The phosphorus friction match of the present day was fust introduced on a commercial scale in 1833; and it appears to have been made almost simultaneously in several distinct centres. The name most prominently connected with the early stages of the invention is that of Preschel of Vienna, who in 1833 had a factory in operation for making phosphorus matches, fusees, and amadou slips tipped with igniting composition. At the same time also matches were being made by Moldenhauer in Darmstadt; and for a long series of years Austria and the South-German states were the principal centres of the new industry. Improvements in the manufacture have been numerous ; and the industry is now carried on with a complete system of ingenious labour-saving machinery. The use of phosphorus as a principal ingredient in the igniting mixture of matches has not been free from very serious disadvantages. It is a deadly poison, the free dissemination of which has led to many accidental deaths, and also to numerous cases of wilful poisoning and suicides. Workers also who are exposed to phosphoric vapours are subject to a peculiarly distressing disease which attacks the jaw, and ultimately produces necrosis of the jaw-bone ; it appears, however, that, with scrupulous attention to ventilation and cleauliness, almost all risk of the disease may be avoided. Strenuous efforts have been made by numerous inventors to introduce matches having no phosphorus in their igniting mixture, but hitherto with indifferent success. The most serious objections to the use of phosphorus have, however, been overcome by the discovery of the modified condition of that body known as red or amorphous phosphorus, made by Pro-fessor Anton Von Schrotter of Vienna in 1845, and the utilization of that substance in the now well-known " safety matches" invented by Lundstrom of Sweden in 1855, and first manufactured in the United Kingdom by Bryant & May of London. Red phosphorus is, in itself, a perfectly innocuous substance, and no evil effects arise from freely working the compositions of which it forms an ingredient. The fact again that safety matches ignite only in exceptional circumstances on any other than the pre-pared surfaces which accompany the box—which surfaces and not the matches themselves contain the phosphorus required for ignition—makes them much less liable to cause accidental fires than the kinds more commonly in use.

Manufacture.—The operations carried on in a match factory may be grouped under the four heads of preparing the splints, dipping the matches, box-making, and filling. The varieties of wood principally used for matches are poplar, aspen, yellow pine, and white pine. Splints are either round or quadrangular, the former having been at one time exceedingly common, when Austrian manufactures ruled the markets ; but, now that Sweden is the principal match-manufacturing country, matches are nearly all square in section. For cutting square splints many ingenious machines have been devised, some of which, worked by engine-power, can turn out from 15,000,000 to 17,000,000 splints per day. In Sweden the manufacturers use principally aspen or clean-grained pine wood, preferring sections 12 to 20 inches in diameter, newly felled and full of sap. If dry, the wood must be soaked before it is fit for the operations through which it passes. The timber is cut into blocks about 15 inches long—sufficient for seven matches—and being freed from bark it is fixed in a special form of turning lathe, and by means of a fixed cutting tool acting on its entire length a continuous veneer or band the thickness of a match is cut off. With each revolution of the block the knife advances proportionately to the thickness of the band cut off, and thus a uniformly thick slice is obtained continuously. At the same time eight small knives cut the veneer into seven separate bands each the length of a match, and thus in one operation seven long ribbons of wood the length and thickness of a match are obtained. These ribbons are next broken into lengths of from 6 to 7 feet, knotty pieces are removed, and to cut them into single matches they are fed into a machine which acts somewhat like a straw-chopper. From 120 to 140 bands are acted on in the apparatus, and a ratchet arrangement feeds them forward the thickness of a match at each stroke of the cutter, which thus cuts off 120 to 140 matches per stroke. Worked by hand the machine delivers about 5,000,000 splints per day, and by power it can be run to turn out double that number. The matches are next dried in revolving drums in a heated chamber or stove, and there-after they are sifted in a kind of partitioned sieve to free them front fragments and splinters. The sifting process also arranges all the splints in parallel order and in uniform quantities, whereby they may be conveniently bundled and prepared for the dipping which next follows. For the dipping process it is necessary to keep each match free from contact with its neighbour, and indeed allow it such a space that each may be fully coated and yet there be no danger of the igniting composition clotting the heads into one mass. To effect this the splints are by an ingenious machine separately arranged at uniform intervals between the lathes of a dipping frame. The dipping frames are made about 18 inches square, and are fitted with 44 movable lathes. Between each pair of lathes 50 splints are inserted Dy the machine, and when tightened up by screws each frame thus contains 44 x 50 = 2200 splints placed at regular intervals, the heads of which are all on the same level. A single attendant can place, by aid of the machine, about 1,250,000 matches in the dipping frames per day. The dipping is done in a stove of masonry which contains three square flat-bottomed shallow pans. In the first the splints are heated so as to facilitate the absorption of paraffin ; in the second their points are dipped into molten paraffin scale ; and in the third they receive their heads or tips of igniting composition, that mixture being kept in a uniform thin stratum in the pan, or in some cases it is supplied by an endless india-rubber belt which revolves and dips into the composition. A skilful workman can dip from 3500 to 4000 frames, or about 8,000,000 matches, a day. The frames so dipped are afterwards arranged in a heated apartment till the igniting composition is dried, after which the matches are taken out and put up in boxes by hand.

Match splints in the factories of the United Kingdom are generally cut in lengths suitable for two matches, and dealt with in that form throughout. The splint-cutting machine patented by John Jex Long of Glasgow in 1871 differs essentially from the Swedish splint-making machinery above alluded to ; it acts on squared blocks two-match length, and is capable of producing up to 17,000,000 matches per day.

The object of dipping in melted paraffin is, of course, to secure more ready ignition of the wood. Sulphur was formerly employed for that purpose ; and enormous quantities of the cheaper matches made on the Continent and in America continue to be sulphur dipped. The cheaper kinds are frequently " bundle dipped " in the molten sulphur, after which their points are merely pressed against the igniting composition.

oThe chief element in the igniting mixture of ordinary matches is still common phosphorus, combined with one or more other bodies which readily part with oxygen under the influence of heat. Chief among these latter substances is chlorate of potash, the body which causes the sharp explosive sound when a common match is struck, and to the use of which there is a strong objection on the Continent from the fear of explosions in dealing with the substance in large quantities. The other oxygen-yielding bodies commonly found in matches are red lead, nitrate of lead, bichromate of potash, and peroxide of manganese. The proportions in which anj' of these bodies is present in various igniting compositions are kept trade secrets ; they vary greatly, as special regard must be given to matches for damp climates, or for ocean transport, and to other considera-tions. The igniting agents are made into a paste with glue or gum as an adhesive agent, a little fine sand or powdered glass, and some colouring ingredient such as cinnabar, smalt, magenta, or Prussian blue. Matches in which amorphous phosphorus takes the place of the common variety, notwithstanding several obvious advantages, have never come into general use. They were shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851 by Bell & Black of London ; and Foster .& Warwa of Vienna, one of the earliest match-making firms, long continued to make them, as did also Cogniet Pere et Fils of Paris. As made by these and other makers they were difficult to strike, requiring a special rough rubbing surface ; the head frequently broke away in the attempt to light them, and when they did inflame it was with explosive violence and a loud spluttering noise. Dr Von Schrotter, the discoverer of amorphous ;phosphorus, claims to have found a means of preparing combinations of amorphous phosphorus with chlorate of potash and other oxygen-yielding compounds of all degrees of combusti-bility, and he states that Hochstatter of Frankfort now manufactures matches with amorphous phosphorus composition which may be ignited by rubbing on a cloth surface, which inflame quietly, burn without smell or sparking, are not influenced by damp, and are cheaper than common phosphorus matches. The use of amorphous phosphorus—but on the rubbing surface only and not in the dipping composition (safety matches)—was first suggested by Bottger, but it was not till a patent was secured by Lundstrom in 1855 that the matches were brought into the market. According to J. G. Gentele, the elements of the dipping mixture for the heads are—chlorate of potash, 32 parts; bichromate of potash, 12 ; red lead, 32 ; sulphide of antimony, 24 ; and the ingredients of a suitable rubbing surface are eight parts of amorphous phosphorus to nine of sulphide of antimony. There is no doubt, however, that here too there is considerable diversity in the composition of the mixtures. Igniting compositions entirely free from phosphorus depend for their moderate degree of efficiency on the use of such agents as chlorate of potash, sulphide of antimony, bichromate of potash, and red lead.

" Vestas " are matches in which short pieces of "wax taper " are used in place of wooden splints. The taper is prepared by drawing a series of wicks or strands of twenty to thirty fine cotton threads through molten stearin, with some proportion of paraffin. The wax quickly hardens on the threads, agglutinating them to irregular hard strands, which are smoothed and rounded to the required size by being drawn through iron plates perforated with holes the size of the required taper. The tapers are cut to the match lengths, and set in dipping frames by special machines. The making of vestas is an industry only second in extent to the wooden match manufacture,—its headquarters being London, Manchester, Mar-seilles, and the north of Italy. Fusees for the use of smokers are made of strips of thick porous paper saturated with salt-petre and bichromate of potash, and tipped with ordinary composition. They are now almost entirely supplanted by vesuvians, which consist of large oval heads on both ends of a round splint. These heads, made by repeated dipping, consist of a porous mixture of charcoal, saltpetre, cascarilla or other scented bark, glass, and gum, and they also are tipped with common igniting composition.

Ordinary match boxes are made of thin veneers or skillets of wood the same as used in splint making. The blocks used yield skillets the exact size of the box or cover to be made, and the machine which shaves skillets off the block also scores them along the lines by which they must be bent to form the box. The fold-ing, covering with paper, and labelling are operations performed by young girls with remarkable rapidity. In dealing with double splints, the matches are at the boxing stage cut asunder in small bundles with a lever knife by the box filler, who acquires such delicacy of perception that at each operation she seizes and divides the exact quantity required to fill two boxes. A good hand will in this way fill 35 to 40 gross of boxes per day.

It is calculated that in the principal European countries from six to ten matches are used for each inhabitant daily. There is .no way by which an exact estimate of the extent of the trade in the United Kingdom can be obtained ; but competent author-ities believe the yearly value of the matches made to be not les? than £1,500,000, and that the makers turn out about 300,000,000 matches daily. Of all the makers Messrs Bryant & May are by far the most extensive ; and next comes the Bell & Black com-pany, formed of a combination of makers in London, Glasgow, Manchester, and York. In France the right to manufacture matches is a Government monopoly farmed to the Compagnie, générale des allumettes chimiques for an annual payment of 16,000,000 francs, with 6 centimes extra per hundred matches in excess of forty milliards sold yearly. The company has concentrated the whole of the manufacture into twelve establishments, the largest of which are at Marseilles. The effect of the monopoly in France is that matches are very costly, and the average consumption per head throughout the country is considerably less than in other countries. Sweden is the country which in recent years has been most inti-mately identified with the growth of the industry. In that country, including with it Norway, there were in 1880 forty-three match factories, many of them large, that of Jonkôping being among the most extensive in the world. The quantity of matches exported that year was about 19,000,000 lb (22,900,000 skal-punds), prob-ably representing 50,000,000,000 matches. The yearly exports have increased four-fold since 1870, and are still rapidly extending. In Germany there are two hundred and twTelve factories, which are estimated to make yearly about 60,000,000,000 matches; and Austria-Hungary—the original seat and centre of the manufacture— possesses one hundred and fifty establishments, wdience large quan-tities of matches are exported to Russia, Turkey, Asia Minor, and the neighbouring states of Italy. Throughout Europe about 1200 tons of phosphorus are annually consumed in the manufacture of matches, the greater proportion being produced in England.

In the United States a tax of 1 cent per box containing one hundred is levied on matches 7nanufactured in the country, in addition to which there is an ad valorem duty of 35 per cent, on all matches imported. The internal revenue tax of a cent per box is subject to a reduction of 10 per cent, to manufacturers, with an additional discount of 5 per cent, on the purchase of the stamps used for the boxes when quantities exceeding in value $50 are purchased at one time. The result of these fiscal arrangements has been to favour large monopolizing companies. Although there are nearly thirty manufactories in the States at present, practically the match trade of the country is in the hands of, or entirely controlled by, the Diamond Match Company of New York, consisting of a combination of large manufacturers. During the year 1881 the revenue derived from the internal tax amounted to $3,272,258,. While the customs duty on imported matches yielded no more than $6186, these receipts representing probably a consumption oft 40,000,000,000 matches. (J. PA.)

The above article was written by: James Paton, Curator of the Corporation Galleries of Art, Glasgow.

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