Wooden Matches go on sale
History is littered with those who failed to cash in on their inventions: the paper-clip rights sold for next to nothing; likewise the safety-pin. But perhaps the most striking case (ho-ho) where an inventor didnít think it worthwhile to patent his creation was that of Stockton-on-Tees druggist and amateur chemist John Walker. Imagine what a tiny percentage of every box of matches sold for just a year would have been worth.
Walker had been apprenticed to a surgeon in his home town before training in York and Durham with pharmacists, then ran a chemistís shop on Stocktonís High Street. He was of an enquiring mind, and interested in chemistry of the bang and flash variety, and in 1827 came up with the idea for what he termed a Congreve, referring to the rockets developed less than 20 years previously. These were the first friction matches, made by drying a chemical mixture on a small piece of wood, the mixture igniting when struck against a suitable surface. The first sale of the product was on April 7 1827, and we even know the name of the customer, a local solicitor called Hixon.
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