How matches work

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What's your favorite part of going camping? For some, it's the chance to participate in their favorite outdoor activities, such as hiking, canoeing , or fishing. Others enjoy the opportunity to sleep in a sleeping bag under the stars. Many kids believe camping wouldn't be camping without a campfire to sit around while you tell spooky stories and eat s'mores. There's nothing quite like roasting marshmallows to help keep the ghosts and goblins away.

Creating a campfire is fairly easy these days. With modern conveniences, such as lighters and lighter fluid, even a novice can pile up some wood and have a roaring fire going in a matter of minutes. In the past, things weren't always quite so easy. The earliest humans may have needed Mother Nature's help. Before they learned how to create fire by rubbing sticks together, they likely waited until lightning set a tree on fire before they could capture a flame and keep it burning. Eventually, people discovered that striking flint with a rock would produce a spark , and this made starting fires much easier.

It wasn't until , though, that a true technological innovation took place. What are we talking about? The invention of the match, of course! While matches might seem like ancient technology in today's world, they were revolutionary in the early 19 th century. Just imagine going from striking flint to create sparks to striking a tiny stick of wood that contained everything needed to create fire faster and easier. The very first matches weren't actually tiny, though. John Walker's first matches created in were actually sticks of wood that were about a yard long.

At the end of the sticks was a head consisting of a mixture of phosphorus and sulfur that would ignite when struck against any rough surface. Over the following decades, matches would be improved and perfected until they resembled the tiny sticks we use safely today. Today's matches create fire as the result of a simple chemical reaction. When a match is struck, friction creates heat and a flammable compound that ignites in the air. In modern matches, the two flammable compounds most often used are sulfur and red phosphorus.

In strike-anywhere matches these compounds both exist in the match head. Most people, however, use safety matches, which have match he with sulfur and a striker usually a black strip on the outside of a match pack or box with red phosphorus. Safety matches, as their name implies, prevent matches from igniting accidentally. In addition to sulfur, a safety match head includes glass powder and an oxidizing agent, such as potassium chlorate.

The glass powder helps to create the friction needed to ignite the flammable compounds during the striking process. The oxidizing agent provides extra oxygen necessary to help the ignition process. The striker on a match pack or box also contains glass powder and sand , in addition to red phosphorus.

The glass powder and sand provide friction that helps create the heat needed to turn a bit of the red phosphorus into white phosphorus, which is more volatile and ignites more easily. The heat from friction also spurs the oxidizing agent in the match head to produce oxygen gas, which ignites the white phosphorus which in turn ignites the sulfur in the match head.

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Check out the camping section. Pay particular attention to the area with cooking supplies. In the past, people had to rely upon matches and wood to light a fire to cook in the wild. What about today? What examples do you find of modern technology that makes cooking while camping much easier? Do you even need matches these days? What other tools do you find that can be used in lieu of matches?

If you were stranded in the woods and needed to start a fire to stay warm and cook food, could you do it? Ask an adult friend or family member to help you pretend to be a survivor stuck in the woods. Can you gather wood and kindling? Can you start a fire without the benefit of matches or a lighter? Then take what you've learned into the wild to try to start your own fire without matches or a lighter. Good luck! In the mood for some arts and crafts? Make a match stick picture! Follow the steps here to create a scene using match sticks. What will you create?

When you're finished, we'd love to see your creations! Share them on our Facebook ! Did you get it? Test your knowledge. Wonder Words wood easy sand heat strip air spark flint safety ignition volatile novice opportunity participate convenience innovation revolutionary flammable Take the Wonder Word Challenge.

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How matches work

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History of Matches and Lighters