Gustaf Erik Pasch - Inventor of the Safety Match

Gustaf Erik Pasch

The early history of matches was filled with several innovative designs that managed to establish foothold in the general population who badly needed this kind of device, but their numerous disadvantages (such as powerful odors, toxic ingredients, expensive manufacture, complicated and dangerous use) prevented them for reaching worldwide fame. One discovery that happened in the early 1840s managed to elevate majority those problems, and introduce to the world match what would soon became the absolute most famous match design of our history – safety matches.

In 1830, French chemist Charles Sauria managed to revolutionize match industry by applying white phosphorus to the manufacturing process of wooden matches. This discovery quickly became copied all around the world, and millions of those matches entered circulation. But, even though they were initially very popular, they had one major disadvantage – white phosphorus was a toxic device that could seriously endanger the health of the workers in manufacturing plants, and it was also a great self-igniting fire risk for both factories and ordinary users. Solution for this problem came from Sweden.

Inventors of now famous safety match were two Swedish chemists. First one was Jöns Jacob Berzelius (also famous for discovering modern chemical notation) who first noticed the interesting properties of much safer red phosphorus, and the other wan was his student, Gustaf Erik Pasch, a young chemist who managed to construct the first working prototype of the safety match. He managed to do so by transferring phosphorus away from the match itself and placing it on a specifically prepared striking surface. With a patent secured in 1844, Pasch begun the production of safety matches in Stockholm, but manufacture problems and the difficulties in producing cheap red phosphorus forced him to price his matches much more than public was willing to pay.

Even though Pasch himself was unable to commercially exploit his invention, Swedish industrialist and inventor John Edvard Lundström and his younger brother Carl Frans took the proven designs of Pasch, improved it, and started producing safety matches that instantly gained worldwide fame.

Gustaf Erik Pasch died September 6 1862, and was remembered fondly as excellent professor and a member of a Swedish society. He never managed to get rich from his invention that would became one of the most profitable industries of 19th century.