Makers of Many Things

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Making matches is a big business, even if one hundred of them are sold for a cent. It is estimated that on an average each person uses seven matches every day. To provide so many would require some seven hundred million matches a day in this country alone. It seems like a very simple matter to cut a splinter of wood, dip it into some chemicals, and pack it into a box for sale; and it would be simple if it were all done by hand, but the matches would also be irregular and extremely expensive. The way to make anything cheap and uniform is to manufacture it by machinery.


The match splints are set in tiny holes like pins in a pincushion, and the belt revolves, passing their heads through various chemicals.]

The first step in making matches is to select some white-pine plank of good quality and cut it into blocks of the proper size. These are fed into a machine which sends sharp dies through them and thus cuts the match splints. Over the splint cutter a carrier chain is continuously moving, and into holes in this chain the ends of the match splints are forced at the rate of ten or twelve thousand a minute.

The splints remain in the chain for about an hour, and during this hour all sorts of things happen to them. First, they are dipped into hot paraffin wax, because this will light even more easily than wood. As soon as the wax is dry, the industrious chain carries them over a dipping-roll covered with a layer consisting partly of glue and rosin. Currents of air now play upon the splint, and in about ten minutes the glue and rosin on one end of it have hardened into a hard bulb. It is not a match yet by any means, for scratching it would not make it light. The phosphorus which is to make it into a match is on another dipping-roll. This is sesqui-sulphide of phosphorus. The common yellow phosphorus is poisonous, and workmen in match factories where it was used were in danger of suffering from a terrible disease of the jaw bone. At length it was discovered that sesqui-sulphide of phosphorus would make just as good matches and was harmless. Our largest match company held the patent giving them the exclusive right to certain processes by which the sesqui-sulphide was made; and this patent they generously gave up to the people of the United States.

After the splints have been dipped into the preparation of phosphorus, they are carried about on the chain vertically, horizontally, on the outside of some wheels and the inside of others, and through currents of air. Then they are turned over to a chain divided into sections which carries them to a packing-machine. This machine packs them into boxes, a certain number in each box, and they are slid down to girls who make the boxes into packages. These are put into wooden containers and are ready for sale.

As in most manufactures, these processes must be carried on with great care and exactness. The wood must be carefully selected and of straight grain, the dipping-rolls must be kept covered with a fresh supply of composition, and its depth must be always uniform. Even the currents of air in which the splints are dried must be just warm enough to dry them and just moist enough not to dry them too rapidly.

The old sulphur matches made in "card and block" can no longer be bought in this country; the safety match has taken their place. One kind of safety match has the phosphorus on the box and the other igniting substances on the match, so that the match will not light unless it is scratched on the box; but this kind has never been a favorite in the United States. The second kind, the one generally used, may be struck anywhere, but these matches are safe because even stepping upon one will not light it; it must be scratched.

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