We are often asked “Who invented the friction match?” and “When was the friction match invented and what was it called?”. Here are the answers.
John Walker of Stockton-on-Tees, England was the inventor of the friction match in 1826.
You can find out much more about John Walker on our dedicated web site.
Many encyclopaedias and other respected references wrongly state that it was not until 1827 that John Walker (1781 – 1859), a pharmacist in Stockton-on-Tees, invented the friction match. This appears in so many references that researchers blindly repeat this error without looking at the source material.
John Walker kept records of his sales in ledgers, though he did not record every sale. The ledger for the period 19th November 1825 to 23rd September 1829 still exists today and an entry under Die Saturni April 7th 1827 records the sale: Mr Hixon No. 30th Sulphurata Hyper-Oxygenata Frict. 100 Tin case 2d. for 1 shilling and 2 pence.
This may be the first recorded sale of friction matches but it was actually the thirtieth dispensing of his invention. It is known that “Dr Walker” and a new kind of match was being talked about in Stockton before this date. Analysing subsequent sales in the ledger shows that prior sales must have taken place during 1826 and proves that JOHN WALKER INVENTED THE FRICTION MATCH IN 1826.
Incidentally, the second recorded sale of his invention occurred on 7th September 1827 where John Walker uses the term Friction Lights. Except for three entries during 1828 for Attrition Lights all other recorded sales are also for Friction Lights.
Unfortunately no photograph of John Walker is known.