How common were safety matches in 1850s/60s?

Sep 2018
101
transitory
#1
According to Wikipedia: Match - Wikipedia

"Johan Edvard and his younger brother Carl Frans Lundström (1823–1917) started a large-scale match industry in Jönköping, Sweden around 1847, but the improved safety match was not introduced until around 1850–55. The Lundström brothers had obtained a sample of red phosphorus matches from Arthur Albright at The Great Exhibition, held at The Crystal Palace in 1851, but had misplaced it and therefore they did not try the matches until just before the Paris Exhibition of 1855 when they found that the matches were still usable. In 1858 their company produced around 12 million matchboxes."

Does this mean that, by the late 1850s/early 1860s, red phosphorous safety matches were becoming common enough for the average person in some European or American city to buy? Or did it take a bit longer than that for them to become widely available?
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#2
I know by the later 19th century (1880''s) matches were common in the US.

The Hand Christian Anderson story The Little Match Girl was written in 1845, so matches must have been cooking even by then.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,547
#4
I know by the later 19th century (1880''s) matches were common in the US.

The Hand Christian Anderson story The Little Match Girl was written in 1845, so matches must have been cooking even by then.
Yes, but not the safety one, the ones with the special patch on the box to strike them on. The older kind you could strike on anything, and so needed handling with care lest they strike themselves.

Yellow phosphor was discovered by the German alchemist Henning Brand around 1670. By the 1680s Robert Boyle, no less, had worked out it could be mixed with sulphur, and that gave the first matches. They weren't THAT huge items in themselves before the 1830's when they became more generally used. Yellow sulphur is unstable and can ignite in an... inconvenient fashion. (They're also toxic. One of the things the yellow sulphur could be used for in the 19th c. was to induce abortion; poor women in... circumstances... in their desperation would scrape the end off these matches and eat the suplhur, which would kill the foetus with considerable probability, and they might even survive the process themselves too, just not consistently...)

Early in the 19th c. the Swedish chemist Jacob Berzelius (atomic weights, first accurate measurer of) worked out that you could replace the yellow phosphor with much more stable red phosphor. His student G.E. Pasch ran with the idea and in 1844 he patented the safety match. He wasn't that successful as a businessman, since his patent only ran for 8 years, and during that time he never quite managed to solve issues of quality with the red phosphor used (also his matches were very expensive). It was only after his patents had lapsed that the brothers Carl and Johan Lundström took it up and managed to solve the quality issues that it became a global success.

The Lundström brothers started making phosphor matches in their factory on 1844. In 1853 they picked up the safety match, and the same year started selling them to the UK. They also got a lot of attention at the Paris 1855 World Exhibition. But the matches were still damnably expensive, and it wasn't until 1868, when they had managed to radically reduce the cost of manufacture, that the "Swedish safety match" took off as an affordable and generally available global brand. And even then it was a gradual process of increased efficiency. The Lundström brothers' secret weapon was their engineer, Alexander Lagerman, hired in 1870, who ended up automating damn near the entire industrial production process; this was kept strictly under wraps and it wasn't until in the first decade of the 20th c. that it came out exactly what kind of stunning machinery Lagerman had developed. When the brothers opened in 1844 matches were made by hand, and the factory produced 4400 boxes/year. By 1896 the rathe was 7 000 000, and all parts of the production process were mechanised, meaning it only took only three people to run the production end of the factory.

Still, in 1896 even the hefty figure of 7 million/year would have been entirely insufficient for global demand. The Lundströms' despite their best efforts couldn't meet it on their own, so the scope for pirated safety matches was huge, and pirated it was.

The Swedish safety match came with a short instruction on the box, in Swedish: "Tändas endast mot lådans plån." (Strike only against the patch on the box.) When pirated internationally this was copied, more or less, as: "Tandas endast mot ladans plan." Which at least in Sweden was rather a big tell as to the piracy since in Swedish that comes out as "Only to be teethed against the plane of the barn".

So on balance, addressing the OP; no, before 1868 international availability wouldn't be that good (you could find them in the UK) and they would be expensive upmarket things. The 1880's for ready general availability seems pretty accurate, since that's when the effects of mechanisation of the production process really kicked in.
 
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Likes: acix
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#5
Thank you all for the replies. I know it might seem like an oddly specific question, but sometimes its interesting to read about the development of a technology that seems so common to us today, yet would have made something as mundane as lighting a candle a lot easier for people after its introduction.
 

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