A match is a tool for starting a fire. Typically, matches are made of small wooden sticks or stiff paper. One end is coated with a material that can be ignited by frictional heat generated by striking the match against a suitable surface. Wooden matches are packaged in matchboxes, and paper matches are partially cut into rows and stapled into matchbooks. The coated end of a match, known as the match "head", consists of a bead of active ingredients and binder; often colored for easier inspection. There are two main types of matches: safety matches, which can be struck only against a specially prepared surface, and strike-anywhere matches, for which any suitably frictional surface can be used.
The modern equivalent of this sort of match is the simple fuse, still used in pyrotechnics to obtain a controlled time delay before ignition. The original meaning of the word still persists in some pyrotechnics terms, such as black match (a black-powder-impregnated fuse) and Bengal match (a firework akin to sparklers producing a relatively long-burning, coloured flame). But, when friction matches became commonplace, they became the main object meant by the term.
Prior to the use of matches, fires were sometimes lit using a burning glass (a lens) to focus the sun on tinder, a method that could only work on sunny days. Another more common method was igniting tinder with sparks produced by striking flint and steel, or by sharply increasing air pressure in a fire piston. Early work had been done by alchemist Hennig Brand, who discovered the flammable nature of phosphorus in 1669. Others, including Robert Boyle and his assistant, Ambrose Godfrey, continued these experiments in the 1680s with phosphorus and sulfur, but their efforts did not produce practical and inexpensive methods for generating fires.
This approach to match making was further refined in the proceeding decades, culminating with the 'Promethean Match' that was patented by Samuel Jones of London in 1828. His match consisted of a small glass capsule containing a chemical composition of sulfuric acid colored with indigo and coated on the exterior with potassium chlorate, all of which was wrapped up in rolls of paper. The immediate ignition of this particular form of a match was achieved by crushing the capsule with a pair of pliers, mixing and releasing the ingredients in order for it to become alight.
Chemical matches were unable to make the leap into mass production, due to the expense, their cumbersome nature and inherent danger. An alternative method was to produce the ignition through friction produced by rubbing two rough surfaces together. An early example was made by Francois Derosne in 1816. His crude match was called a briquet phosphorique and it used a sulfur-tipped match to scrape inside a tube coated internally with phosphorus. It was both inconvenient and unsafe.
Lucifers were, however, quickly replaced after 1830 by matches made according to the process devised by Frenchman Charles Sauria, who substituted white phosphorus for the antimony sulfide. These new phosphorus matches had to be kept in airtight metal boxes but became popular and went by the name of loco foco in the United States, from which was derived the name of a political party. The earliest American patent for the phosphorus friction match was granted in 1836 to Alonzo Dwight Phillips of Springfield, Massachusetts.
The conditions of working-class women at the Bryant & May factories led to the London matchgirls strike of 1888. The strike was focused on the severe health complications of working with white phosphorus, such as phossy jaw. Social activist Annie Besant published an article in her halfpenny weekly paper The Link on 23 June 1888. A strike fund was set up and some newspapers collected donations from readers. The women and girls also solicited contributions. Members of the Fabian Society, including George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, and Graham Wallas, were involved in the distribution of the cash collected. The strike and negative publicity led to changes being made to limit the health effects of the inhalation of white phosphorus.
Arthur Albright developed the industrial process for large-scale manufacture of red phosphorus after Schrotter's discoveries became known. By 1851, his company was producing the substance by heating white phosphorus in a sealed pot at a specific temperature. He exhibited his red phosphorus in 1851, at The Great Exhibition held at The Crystal Palace in London.
Storm matches, also known as lifeboat matches or flare matches, are often included in survival kits. They have a strikeable tip similar to a normal match, but the combustible compound – including an oxidiser – continues down the length of the stick, coating half or more of the entire matchstick. The match also has a waterproof coating (which often makes the match more difficult to light), and often storm matches are longer than standard matches. As a result of the combustible coating, storm matches burn strongly even in strong winds, and can even spontaneously re-ignite after being briefly immersed under water. The pyrotechnics compound burns self-sustained.