Match-Making in Britain from 1827 to 1910: The Dangers of White Phosphorus in Lucifer Match Production

Elise Lehmann


Throughout the nineteenth century the British match-making industry used white phosphorus in the production of lucifer matches, despite the knowledge taht the chemical could cause a deadly disease known as phosphorus necrosis. Until the 1890s, due to cover-ups made by match-making companies, the British government was unaware of the scale of phosphorus necrosis cases and had been led to believe that the chemical was being used safely. However, even after journalists exposed the truth, the British government and match-making companies were still unwilling to ban white phosphorus because of the economic and social consequences of shutting down lucifer match production. It was not until a chemical alternative was found that both the match-making industry and the British government were prepared to ban the use of white phosphorus. 


Phosphorus necrosis; phosphorus; match-making; matchgirls; Bryant & May

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