The opposite of strike anywhere matches, safety matches can only be struck on specially prepared surfaces.

For such a small thing, the history of the modern match is pretty fascinating. Robert Boyle had tried for years to come up with a self-igniting match, but it took nearly 100 years for Joseph Walker to invent the first flammable matchhead. His matches were called lucifers because of their sulphurous smell upon ignition - they're still called that in the Netherlands today, apparently, which is why that country is awesome - but when people complained about the smell, the unfortunate solution was to add white phosphorous to the mix, thereby condemning a number of smokers (and matchmakers!) to early deaths by phosphorous necrosis.

Eventually, of course, governments came to their senses and banned phosphorous matches (not the US though - we just taxed them!) but there was still was that pesky problem of, you know, having a match. So all the chemists got their heads together, and in 1844 the Swedes came out on top. Their solution? Separate out the potassium chlorate and phosphorous onto two different surfaces - the match and a scratching pad (sold separately for repeated use.) They were also clever enough to use red phosphorous instead of of white, because the friction of the ignition process (they put glass particles on both surfaces) generated some heat which converted some of the red phosphorous to white - enough to do the trick of self-ignition anyway.

And the formula is more or less what we use today. Game, set, match.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.