Here’s a forgotten hero whose invention helped (and probably hindered) almost everybody in the world and yet he’s not just forgotten, it's very unlikely you’ve ever heard of him.
|A gasper ... When it all gets a bit too much, a good old-fashioned smoke is often the choice. Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash|
Most might suggest booze, a famous name for a brand of Scotch, but that’s not this John Walker, sorry.
Our inventor was a chemist, who by accident in 1829 created the match, the self-same that we often use to light the gas, the bonfire in the garden, and for sinners who smoke cigarettes.
In my early years, as a madly keen boy scout, I derived the greatest satisfaction from boiling a billy, as it was termed then, over an open fire.
Willow trees offered the best timber for a quick and just about smokeless fire and the humble weeping willow, salix babylonica, has remained a favourite tree ever since.
To be a successful scout, the fire had to be lit with no more than two matches.
Wikipedia tells us that the discovery of a match that offers a flame actually happened by accident when a piece of wood that John Walker had dipped in a lighting chemical caught fire by friction accidentally.
After the Second World War, it was estimated that by 1949, 81% of men and 39% of women smoked...
Wikipedia says his creation ‘consisted of wooden splints or sticks of cardboard coated with sulphur and tipped with a mixture of sulphide of antimony, chlorate of potash, and gum.’
A year's smokes
I smoked from teens till late thirties when I felt determined to become a solo Cape Horner.
Packing a yacht with almost a year’s cigarettes was not really a possibility. But until then, matches had been part of daily life.
And in National Service training for Trickie Dickie’s Vietnam war, the matches that fellow conscripts and I used so we could smoke!
Tank Museum dot org hints of the astonishing number that must have been used in the early part of the last century alone.
A social norm
‘By the 1920s,' it reports, 'smoking became a social norm practiced by both men and women.'
After the Second World War, due to the increasing acceptability of smoking, it was estimated that by 1949, 81% of men and 39% of women smoked.
Cigarettes were no longer a luxury item. They were considered to be a part of everyday life.
Fortunately (thankfully) life has changed. I wonder, though, about the number of forests that had to be felled for John Walker’s great invention to aid our very odd dragon-emulating human habit?
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