New Hampshire Glossary: Lucifers

A “lucifer” was a nickname frequently used to describe friction matches. These matches were made of a sliver of wood tipped with a combustible chemical substance that was ignited by friction.  

In the earliest days of New Hampshire's settlement, the fire of the domestic hearth was renewed by the use of flint, a steel, and a supply of tinder, (per Life & Times of Hopkinton, New Hampshire) or by borrowing some coals from a neighbor if you had one).

In 1827 an Englishman named John Walker had created the first friction match. The chemicals used were antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, gum and starch. The introduction of the lucifer match made lighting a fire immensely easier, and also reportedly contributed to the great increase in tobacco smokers due to the new  ease in lighting cigarettes and cigars.

In New Hampshire friction match factories sprang up quickly. Lucifer or friction matches were first used in Bath NH about 1834. By 1857 a friction match factory existed in Winchester NH. The composition of these early matches were poisonous as demonstrated by an article appearing in the New Hampshire Sentinel of Keene NH, dated 1 July 1847:  “A son of Mr. Edwin Mallory of North Adams, Mass, aged two years, was poisoned to death a few days since, by eating off the composition from the ends of a bunch of friction matches.”

**Additional Reading**

The History of Matches

Antiques: Match Holders and Match Safes

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