Objects | Inventions and Firsts


Friction Match, 1827

Preston Park Museum & Grounds, Tees Valley


1800 – 1899

John Walker, who lived in Stockton-on-Tees, was an apothecary who often experimented with chemicals. In 1826, when preparing a combustible paste, he dragged his mixing stick along the hearth, where it “spluttered and caught fire”.

Seeing the potential in this, he created ‘friction lights’ by dipping the ends of 3-inch splints of wood in the paste. In 1827, he began selling these in tins of 100 for a halfpenny. They were an immediate success, one of his early customers being the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

What Walker had done was to enable man to make fire quickly and easily, anywhere and at any time. This invention meant people were no longer reliant on difficult and unpredictable tinder boxes and flints.

Famously, Walker did not patent his invention, wishing for all mankind to benefit from it. Others were not so benevolent and were soon making and patenting ‘matches’. With different brands flooding the market, Walker ceased production in the early 1830s.

By John Walker (1781-1859)

On display at Preston Park Museum & Grounds, Stockton Borough Council

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