Sunday, November 11, 2012

Another job you wouldn't want to do: Testing matches

The World Book Encyclopedia.  Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1970.
Paper matches are coated with chlorate of potash, and the striker strip on the book is composed of red phosphorus and sand.  A Frenchman, Dr. Charles Sauria, invented the first strike-anywhere match in 1830, but he used white or yellow phosphorus on the striking tip.  Fumes from these matches crippled and killed thousands of people by causing necrosis.  This was popularly called "phossy jaw" and resulted in painful facial ulcers and, in extreme cases, the rotting away of the jaw bone.  In 1900, the French  patented a match using sesquisulfide of phosphorus, which wasn't poisonous, but it wouldn't work in the U.S. because of climate differences.  The problem of necrosis from matches became so acute that, in 1910, the U.S. government placed very high taxes on white and yellow phosphorus matches, and the industry almost went under.  However, in 1911, a naval architect named William Armstrong Fairburn was able to find a way to make the French process work in the U.S.  The Diamond Match Company bought the French patents for $10,000 and released them so anyone could use it, eliminating the cause of necrosis.

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