On this date in 1826, English chemist and apothecary John Walker invented the first friction match. Walker coated the tips of three-inch splints of wood with a mixture of antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, arabic gum, and starch. After the matches dried, one could strike them on any rough surface and start a fire.
Walker called his invention “Congreves,” and he sold some...but he didn't patent the matches, and he made little money on his idea.
Later a man named Samuel Jones marketed Walker's Congreves – but he changed the name to “Lucifers.” Even though these matches produced a bad burning odor, they became quite popular.
Later, people tried to improve on the invention. In 1830, a French chemist came up with an odorless match—which sounds great—but it turned out to be poisonous! The chemist had used white phosphorous as part of the mixture, and that made people sick with something called “phossy jaw.” In 1855, safety matches were patented by Johan Edvard Lundstrom of Sweden. Lundstrom used phosphorous, too—but he used red phosphorous, not white, and he put it on a strip of sandpaper on the outside of the match box. When the match was struck across the surface of the rough sandpaper, the chemicals on the match tip were able to ignite—but the red phosphorous itself didn't burn!
Years later, in 1910, the Diamond Match Company patented the first nonpoisonous match in the United States. The U.S. president, William H. Taft, asked Diamond Match to release their patent for the good of humankind, and the company did! Then all the match companies could manufacture non-poisonous matches!