Discover more about the history of matches and learn how lighting a fire without matches in an extreme survival situation can save your life.

Fire is one of the four earthly elements that include wind, water and earth.

Unlike earth, wind and water, fire provides heat, a means of cooking, sterilisation, and a psychological boost to one’s sense of well-being, especially in a survival situation.

Also, there is a primal link between man and fire and everyone in a survival situation should know how to start and fuel a survival fire using a range of tools available.
Although a description of the match was recorded in a 10th Century Chinese book entitled “Records of the Unworldly and the Strange”, the first friction match was invented in Hamburg in the late 17th Century by a German.  At the time, an alchemist named Hennig Brandt was attempting to transform a mix of base metals into gold, but instead created phosphorous.  Over a decade later, the British physicist named Robert Boyle coated paper in phosphorous and a splinter of wood in sulphur.  When the wood was drawn across the folded paper, the wooden splinter burst into flames. Subsequently, in the mid-19th Century a pharmacist named John Walker created a match after stirring a mixture of potassium chloride, antimony sulphide, gum and starch with a wooden stick.  Using the stick to remove some of the solution that had dried on the end, the stick burst into flames.  John Walker gave a demonstration in London which was attended by a Mr. Samuel Jones.  Mr. Jones recognised the commercial potential and began manufacturing the match which he named “Lucifers”.

“Lucifers” were used to light cigarettes but the phosphorous matches created by the French chemist Charles Sauria were more user-friendly because they were odourless and longer than the English version.

Consequently, phosphorous based matches were manufactured in large quantities, often using child labour.  By the end of the 19th Century, the Swedes had improved on the match and an American attorney invented the matchbook, which became a means of advertising for a brewing company in 1896.
Although matches, and subsequently lighters, have become an easy way for starting a fire, other fire starters have existed for many years.  The use of flint for fire-making was practiced by early Homo Sapiens as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Flint and steel was a common means of fire starting in the late medieval period and was a critical component for the combustion of black powder in early guns and rifles.  Aborigines and other so-called “primitive tribes people” have used a bow drill and other friction methods, including a fire piston, to light a fire without matches.

Therefore, although matches and various forms of lighters are readily available, it is useful to understand other methods of lighting fires without matches.

  • – Stretch out some steel wool and rub the side of 9 Volt battery with the strands of steel wool.  As the steel wool begins to glow and burn, blow gently and transfer the burning wool to your tinder nest.
  • – Use chocolate as a polish to rub the bottom of a fizzy drinks’ can and make it shine like mirror.  After polishing the bottom of the can, you would have created a parabolic mirror which you can then point towards the sun.  Place your tinder 2 centimetres from the reflecting light’s focal point and the tinder will ignite.
  • – Mix equal parts of glycerine and potassium permanganate and crush together in a crumbled piece of paper.  Within minutes of being combined, smoke will appear and a flame will ignite the paper.  Glycerine is the active constituent of anti-freeze, which is contained in the batteries of all cars.

You can also use a bow drill for starting a fire but friction-based fire making requires patience.  However, the principle of starting a fire using a hand drill, bow and drill or a fire plough, is the same – you need to create enough friction between the spinning spindle (vertical) and the fire board (horizontal) in order to create an ember to start your fire.