Geek Trivia

Which Of These Common Household Items Was Invented By Accident?

Matches
Crayons
Paperclips
Shoe Polish
What Common Thing Was Known As "Devil's Rope" Shortly After It Was First Created?

Answer: Matches

The design of strike-anywhere matches is pretty brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s just a stick of wood with a blob of dried, highly flammable material on the end that is ignited by friction. Drag the match on a rough surface and boom, with a hiss, a flare, and a wisp of sulfur scent, you’ve got a flame.

That brilliant bit of design, however, was discovered completely by accident. In 1826, a British chemist named John Walker living in Stockton-on-Tees, had a stick with some chemicals he’d mixed up dried on the end. When he scraped the stick across a stone in his hearth, it burst into flame from the friction.

Intrigued by the experience, he replicated it and in the process invented friction matches. After a bit of experimentation with design and materials, his finished product—called “Friction Lights” and first sold to the public in April 1827—closely resembled the same product we use today, right down to the little strip of sand paper on the side of the box.

Image, an example of the first friction matches, courtesy of the Stockton Museum Service.