Got a match?

December 28, 2013

Dudley Wooten

Outdoors Columnist

When I build a fire in the mornings, it always starts with a Diamond Match. Some would just turn on the gas starter or use a Bic lighter, but I like matches and paper to start my fires. This is a great way to get the white pine kindling started to burn the oak and pear wood.

It all starts with a match and I don’t mean gopher matches (strike one and “gopher” another one). I use Diamond “strike anywhere” matches. I was raised on these Diamond brand kitchen matches. My grandpa and grandma used them in their fireplace and cook stove, while my mom and dad did the same next door.

Why Diamond? They are dependable – they work and work well. Diamond Brand Kitchen Matches are made of first quality Aspen wood and have a perchlorate tip. This means the stem doesn’t break and the tip ignites. This makes each match easy to light. Of course, the side of the box is the ideal grit for striking matches, but “strike anywhere” means on the box, on the hearth, or on your zipper. They work. I take them hunting with me, just in case.

I’m always preaching buy American and guess what? These Diamond Brand matches have been made in America since 1881. They call themselves “America’s Match Company” and I think that’s very appropriate. If you’re looking for the standard “Made in China” stamped on this box, you won’t find it.

The Diamond Match Company is now owned by Jarden Home Brands in Daleville, Indiana. The Diamond Match Company was founded by George Barber in his barn, in Akron, in 1847. He and his son, Ohio Columbus Barber, did well with it and then moved the company to his own town, Barberton, where they turned out 250 million matches every day. Keep in mind that Akron is a thriving canal town then. It was located in Summit County – the highest elevation of the Ohio Erie Canal. It was downhill to Lake Erie or the Ohio River from Akron.

What is a match? It’s defined as a splinter of wood or a strip of cardboard that has a combustible tip and ignites by friction. It will have 3 parts: head, tinder, and handle. These heads will come under two names: “strike anywhere” and “safety” matches. What combusts in the head to strike the match – phosphorous, the same thing found in fertilizer for root growth and tracer bullets, to let you see where you’re shooting.

Other elements found on the striking head might be potassium chlorate, glue, and inert materials. The potassium chlorate is an oxidizing agent to supply oxygen to the tinder.

What 3 things are necessary to have fire? - fuel, spark, and oxygen. The glue, of course, bonds the spark to the tinder. The inert material will be providing bulk and regulating the speed of reaction. When you strike a kitchen match, you see spark, flash, hesitation, and then a flame. This is a pyrotechnic work of art and it’s the result of centuries of disappointing “gopher matches,” that we’ve learned from.

Before the 17th Century, starting fires was about using flint, rubbing sticks together, or carrying embers with you. Matches were the brainchild of two researchers – Henning Brand, a German alchemist and Robert Boyle, an English scientist. They were discovering that sulfur and phosphorous on wood splinters were good fire starters. This was in 1670 and 1680. In 1805, Chancel in Paris was getting close to making matches and in 1829 in London, Sam Jones did and called it the “Promethean Match.” The first matches were friction matches, sparked a lot, failed to ignite usually and were called “Lucifers” and not recommended for those with weak lungs.

In 1831, Charles Sauria, of France added white (yellow) phosphorous and made a more dependable match. In the U.S.A., A.D. Phillips and Ezekiel Byam developed match production in 1836. Red Phosphorous and safety matches happened in 1845 in Germany and Sweden. Red phosphorous won’t spontaneously combust and is non-toxic.

The strike anywhere match was pioneered here in America by The Diamond Match Company. White phosphorous was becoming known to be a good strike but toxic and banned in many countries in 1906. This necessity was the mother of the invention of phosphorous sesquisulfide, which was a good strike, not toxic, and legal.

Matches have evolved in the 19th and 20th Century to have names such as kitchen, vesta, birdseye, wax, book, pyrotechnic, lifeboat, windproof, and waterproof matches. Zippo and Bic have certainly started many fires, but for my money Diamond is matchless.

The Diamond Match Company was one of many thriving businesses in the booming 17th state in the 19th and 20th Century. The schoolboy who submitted the state motto, “With God, all things are possible.” in 1959, must have done his homework. By then, Ohio was the home of Thomas Edison’s light bulb, Henry Timpkin’s roller bearing, the tires of H. Firestone and C. Goodyear, Armco’s roller mill, a Columbus man’s locomotive cowcatcher, O.C. Barber’s first book matches, John Bennett’s fly swatter, Wilbur and Orville’s flying machine, Reynoldsburg’s edible tomato, Dr. Beeman’s chewing gum, A.B. Graham’s 4-H club, Dan Beard’s boy scouts, numerous railways, a great highway system, numerous colleges, Darke County’s Annie Oakley, Ebenezer Zane and his Trace, Akron’s Quaker oats, Rockefeller’s Standard Ohio, John Ritty’s mechanical money drawer (N.C.R.), The Grand Canal (on which President Garfield had been a mule driver), the iron furnaces, Tell Taylor’s “Down By the Old Mill Stream”, thousands of grist mills, Cincinnati’s “Porkopolis” era, Conrad Richter’s Ohio Frontier novels, McGuffey’s Readers, 8 presidents from Ohio, the A.F.L., Jesse Owens, Arch Willard’s painting “The Spirit of ‘76”, Obed Hussey’s reaper, Stephan Foster’s “Way Down upon the Swanee River”, Kettering’s auto starter, John Chapman, Simon Kenton, Bob Hope, and John Wayne.

It would be an understatement to say that Ohio, the state in the middle, was rich in resources, manpower, and ingenuity. As the nation marched westward, it made things happen in Ohio. Diamond Matches are a prime example of the Ohio-based farm-boy ingenuity in our rich history. When you buy Diamond Matches, you’re not only buying American, you’re buying an Ohio legend.

We’ve gone through many changes here and it’s considered progress by most. We’ve gone from wilderness in 1700 to statehood in 1803, to the country’s 3rd most populated state in 1850. The growth spurt brought with it canals, railways, and people. It’s people like George and O.C. Barber who made Ohio what she is today.

You can see a lot just looking into a fire.

Dudley Wooten can be reached at 740-820-8210 or by visiting wootenlandscaping.com.