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  • Writer's picturePaul


The modern friction match was invented by the English chemist and inventor John Walker in 1826. Before then, pocket matches were considerably more elaborate affairs: tipped with a mixture of sulphur, potassium chloride, and sugar, match heads had to be dipped in a vial of neat sulphuric acid to light a spark.

But seemingly carrying around tiny capsules of acid didn’t turn out to be all that advisable an idea, and ultimately Walker’s invention revolutionised the whole match-making industry.

Except he wasn’t quite so interested in its success. He never patented it, and wrote in his notebooks that his new creation—a “combustive friction taper”, as he termed it—was ”an utter frivolity ... pointless to all and the pitiful result of a waste of weeks, months, perhaps longer, of otherwise fruitful work.”

There’s a joke in here about a bright spark, but we’ll let that go.

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