1823: German chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner created the first lighter. No more struggling to ignite a fire. Forget the flint-and-steel method. Forget trying to rub sticks together. Just use “Döbereiner’s Lamp” and a fire can be created in an instant. The lamp was a container that contained a mixture of zinc (a metal) and sulfuric acid, which produces flammable hydrogen gas. Open the jar and provide sparks at the mouth of the container — and the hydrogen gas bursts into flame. Sounds a bit dangerous? No kidding. It was super unsafe. And hard to use. And very large and clumsy. Oh, well…

1826: What a lucky accident! Chemist John Walker in Stockton-on-Tees, in northeast England, was working on an experiment and scraped a chemical-coated stick across his fireplace. Matches were born! With much excitement, Walker started selling his “friction lights” from his pharmacy. At first, he cut sticks of cardboard, but then graduated to wooden splints. Eventually he packaged them in boxes that came with a piece of sandpaper for striking. People were buying them, but they weren’t flying off the shelves, as they were a bit hard to use. Like, strike five, six, seven, fifteen… and still no fire.

1836: French chemist Charles Sauria spent many hours in his lab trying to come up with that magic material that would make lighting a match simple and foolproof. It was a long, arduous process that included many serious accidents, explosions, and the destruction of much scientific equipment. Finally, he got it! White phosphorus. Sauria’s matches were small, easy to use, and won instant popularity. Alas, they were later banned for the use of dangerous chemicals.

1926: The world was looking for a nondisposable, always-available match — a.k.a. lighter. There were many models and trials, with various success rates. But it wasn’t till the Ronson “Banjo” that there was really an automatic lighter. Its motto was “Press it’s lit – release it’s out”. The Banjo, designed by L.V. Aronson, was marketed by Art Metal Works (AMW), Inc., between 1926 and 1928 in Newark, New Jersey, in the United States. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 659)