Considering how many years fire has been around, the invention of the match was a long time coming. Before matches there were various methods for lighting a fire, all of them painfully slow.
The best one was a tinder box, which used steel, flint and tinder, material that would easily catch fire, such as charred cloth or flakes of wood. The tinder had to be very dry for it to work well, so it often didn’t. People were desperate for something faster and more effective.
Sticks of wood impregnated with sulphur were used in China in the sixth century. In 1680 Robert Boyle developed the same thing in England. Boyle’s matches had to be handled very carefully or they caught light unexpectedly.
K. Chancel invented a match that used sulphur, asbestos and sulphuric acid, among other things. As you can imagine, this was quite dangerous too.
In 1826 John Walker invented a match that worked by friction. The mixture of chemicals he used on the head of the match burst into flames at low temperatures, striking it against a rough surface was enough to light one. Unfortunately this made them dangerous. And they smelled terrible, too.
In 1845 Swedish inventor J. Lundstrom made striking a match a lot safer. His idea was to put some of the chemicals on the match head and some on the striking surface, unless the two came into contact, they wouldn’t catch fire. They were known as safety matches.
Phosphorus was used in making matches until the early 20th century. It could be very deadly to factory workers, who might develop ‘phossy jaw’, a terrible condition that, made the jawbone glow in the dark and could eventually kill the sufferer.