The history of matches

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  • 1800-1850: Evolution of the modern match
  • 1850-1900: Safety match became immensely popular
  • 1900-1950 The ‘Match King’ established Svenska Tändsticks Aktiebolaget
  • 1950-2000 Invention of the sulfur-free match
  • 2000 – The legacy is carried forward

1800-1850: Evolution of the modern match

The phosphorus match was invented in 1831. The new match could be ignited by scratching it on any surface, making it very popular. The problem was, however, that the yellow phosphorus was highly toxic and combustible, which required a great deal of caution. Thirteen years later, in 1844, the Swedish professor Gustav Erik Pasch invented the safety match as a solution to the highly combustible phosphorus match by replacing the toxic properties of yellow phosphorus with the safer properties of red phosphorus. To reduce the risk of accidents, the safety match could only be ignited by striking the match against a special pad, which also contained red phosphorus. Although the new safety matches were superior to the old matches in terms of both health and safety, the safety matches did not become a household item because they were initially too expensive. When matches were first invented, most factory workers were women. They were given key roles at an early stage and thanks to their jobs in the factory, were able to make their own money, which was not only important symbolically, but also economically significant for their families.

1850-1900: Safety match became immensely popular

The safety match did not really break through and become popular until two brothers, Carl and Johan Lundström, improved Pasch’s patent. The brothers founded the Jönköping match factory and their matches quickly became famous and used all over the world. The safety match became a household item because people everywhere, regardless of their social class, needed matches to light their lamps, fires and even tobacco. Thanks to lithography and color printing, the surfaces of matchboxes could also be used to signal a sender or a brand. As more and more factories and brands emerged, it was important to stick out. In the 19th century, motifs were increasingly used on the labels to attract buyers. Manufacturers used everything considered exciting at the time – actors, celebrities, kings, exotic animals and new inventions were printed on the matchboxes to signal their brand. Various symbols also became common motifs, such as the figure three, which represented something sacred to many people. Three stars are still used to represent the Three Stars brand and the Union Match brand uses three torches. During the 1860-70s, match manufacturing evolved from small-scale production to a large-scale industry in pace with technical development. Over the years, as many as 155 match factories have existed in Sweden.

1900-1950 The ‘Match King’ established Svenska Tändsticks Aktiebolaget

In the early 20th century, the Swedish match industry consisted of two major corporations. One corporation comprised the recently amalgamated Jönköping & Vulcans Tändsticksfabrik Aktiebolag – the other consisted of AB Förenade Svenska Tändsticksfabriker led by Ivar Kreuger. Ivar Kreuger was a Swedish financier and civil engineer who laid the foundation for today’s Swedish Match by merging the two corporations and forming Svenska Tändsticks Aktiebolaget (STAB), with himself as General Manager. Ivar Kreuger was also known as the ‘Match King’ and his newly formed group of companies, STAB, was headquartered in the Matchstick Palace (Swe: Tändstickspalatset) in Stockholm, Sweden. STAB quickly became a world leader in match production and continued to grow sharply until the Wall Street Crash of 1929, when the Group began to have problems. The sudden death of Ivar Kreuger in 1932 led to the Kreuger Crash, one of the greatest financial collapses in history. The effects of the Kreuger Crash were felt far beyond Swedish borders and Svenska Tändsticks AB did not recover until well into the 1940s.

1950-2000 Invention of the sulfur-free match

After Kreuger’s death, Svenska Tändsticks AB entered a difficult period. Match sales began to stagnate and in the early 1950s, STAB was forced to seek new areas of business that were related to match manufacturing – including forest industry operations, which led to the acquisition of more than 50 companies between 1968 and 1976. One of the reasons why sales stagnated was attempts by various markets to build up their own matchmaking industry, and a totally new form of competition from disposable lighters. The use of tobacco also declined, which obviously affected the market. In 1980, Svenska Tändsticks AB changed its name to Swedish Match AB. Another important change in the history of matches occurred in 1992, when Swedish Match presented a unique and environmentally sound product – the sulfur-free match. All toxic heavy metals had been removed and the matches were mostly made from renewable raw materials.

2000 – The legacy is carried forward

All of Swedish Match’s production takes place in our two factories at Vetlanda and Tidaholm. Our manufacturing methods have changed slightly after 150 years of production, but many parts of the process are still the same. As Sweden’s only manufacturer of safety matches, we do everything we can to nurture the legacy of Swedish matches.