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HE quantity of matchwood used every day for lighting is enormous and the figures representing the total are almost beyond belief. An expert in forestry has just determined after careful computation that the civilized nations of the world strike three million matches every minute of the twenty-four hours. However staggering these figures may appear to people of foreign countries, it is a fact that nearly half of all matches used are ignited in the United States, and doubting ones have only to remember how smokers of pipes are tantalized by the “going-out” habit of their “smokes.” The Forest Service, however, has an object other than the arousing of wonderment in putting forth statistics, and that is to draw attention to the rate at which the insignificant little match is eating into the diminishing forests of the country.

The relations that forests bear to the prosperity of the people is so imperfectly understood by Americans, that it is no wonder that the influence of the forest reserves, in regulating the flow of streams and the occurrence of floods, and the effect of their depletion in the creation of desert wastes and of the resulting decay of nations, has been so little considered by the various states, at least to a very recent date.

We forget that Palestine, before the destruction of the forests of Lebanon, supported a population of ten millions in affluence, and that today scarcely four hundred thousand people remain, and these are in abject poverty. The valley of Babylon, once proud and prosperous, is now abandoned and forlorn, while the sites of Carthage, Tyre and Sidon, once populous, fertile and blessed with abundance, are now covered by desert wastes. That this condition may not be repeated in this country, the American Forestry Association is devoted to the perpetuation of our natural resources through intelligent use.

The American people use up the enormous total of seven hundred billion matches a year, but a statement of the number of cubic feet of wood actually converted into matches conveys a very indefinite idea of the number of trees required for the industry. It is the general belief that matches are the by-product of planing mills and other wood-working factories, but as a matter of fact the best grade of two-inch lumber is used for matches, while sash, doors and blinds are the by-products of the match-timber saw mills. In a single year the match makers cut two hundred and twenty-five million feet —board measure— of pine in the Great Lakes region ; and one out of one hundred and fifty odd factories used up two hundred thousand feet of sugar or yellow pine logs every day. The deduction is that, in common with other industries of the United States depending upon existing forests, the matchmakers are within sight of a shortage in the wood supply. When the present timber holdings have been depleted they, of course, can not be duplicated in a generation, and the people of this country may have to get along with fewer than twenty-five or thirty matches a day each as at present. In their insistent way they will probably demand that the practice of Germany and France be followed, that foresters plant and grow timber especially for matches. This could readily be done if forests were placed under management and were no longer left to run wild, and produce cordwood and brush to fall before the devastating forest fires, instead of growing merchantable timber.

It is a long way back to the days of Clias, who was the first to show the use of flint and steel to ignite tinder, and the people of today would consider it a hardship to have to resort to those primitive methods or to the use of the bow-drill which produced a blaze by the heat of much friction. The Lucifer match came into use within the memory of our grandfathers, and was hailed as one of the great inventions of the time. The discovery was made in 1825 and the little one-story house in which the first Lucifer match was made still stands. The “old match house,” as it is known, occupies a prominent place in Main Street, near the center of the mountain village of Thurmont, which lies nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Maryland, and about sixty-miles north of Washington. Joseph and Jacob Weller were the first makers of Lucifer matches, the processes used by them being slow and laborious, each splint having to be cut by hand and dipped separately in the composition which formed its head. Not until recent years have improvements over those crude methods revolutionized matchmaking, thus reducing the productive cost, so that now one hundred matches may be purchased anywhere for a penny.

In the processes in general use the splints are made of veneer pared from basswood logs or other soft woods, and then cut into strips of seventeen inches grain length, which is the length of seven matches. These are piled up in a veneer cutter and sliced by a knife divided into eight sections, making one hundred and fifty strokes a minute. The matches are paraffined in a big screen drum which is dipped into a huge vat. When they are dumped out, smooth and shining, they are straightened by a tray device, which by a jigging motion brings them up in line like a rank of toy soldiery. They are then run through a machine which sets them in square dripping plates. These plates are handled by men and boys through still other machines which put on the matches the composition heads, and then the trays are placed in crates with rows of shelves for the heads to dry. The matches are finally deposited on tables and packed in boxes by girls, who also wrap the boxes in packages ready for the shipping case.

The latest advance in matchmaking, showing as .great an inventive genius as in other real achievements in the mechanical arts, lies in a new machine which is designed to do the work of a considerable number of workers. It is the invention of a resident of Detroit, and so far have the new processes been developed that a single machine, with its long endless chain and numerous reels, produces twelve thousand matches every minute of the work day. For every hour seven hundred and twenty thousand matches are made, while the daily capacity of the factory is in excess of twenty millions.

The most interesting feature of the machine is its automatic operation, every separate process in the manufacture being nicely regulated, so that from the block of wood to the finished matches, piled on the packing table, no one touches the product, or has anything to do with the various processes. The material for the splints is cork pine, which is cut in the forests of the north country. The land-looker or scout who goes through the woods, often in the dead of winter, is the advance guard. He is warmly outfitted with heavy woolen clothing, and on snow shoes, with his blankets and the few articles of camp equipage packed 011 his back, he trudges for miles through the native forest. He carefully examines every section and computes to a nicety the number of million feet of standing timber, and arrives at a correct estimate of the grade suitable for match lumber. In this work he is drawn into the very depths of the woods far from the iron trail or the habitation of man. He will sometimes be lost to civilization for weeks at a time delving into the thickest pineries without seeing the face or footprint of man for days.

After a while the logging camp penetrates the hitherto unbroken wilds, and the choppers and sawyers do their work —the next stage—in bringing to you the little lighting taper. In time the logs are hauled to the dumping ground on the bank of the nearest stream and, when the ice and snows of winter have melted away, they float down to the main river. There the “boomers” —the river men—guide them into booms where they are rafted and towed to the storage boom of the match-timber saw mill. In their turn they are poled into the mill boom and then it is only a matter of an hour or so ere they reach the log end of the mill. An endless chain of chaplets dipping below the edge of the pond catches the logs as they are poled in place and, in a jiffy they are drawn clear of the water “and up the ways into the mill.

On the upper floor where the big band saw and numerous circulars are buzzing wickedly—a sound almost terrifying to the novice—the chain stops for an instant, and the log is rolled off on an inclined way ready for its fate. The long saw carriage rushes back and forth with its load rapidly changing from log to lumber, and it finally stops to take on a fresh stock for the voracious saws. The log is rolled on by “steam niggers,” and secured by dogs on the carriage; and in two minutes it has been cut and the lumber trimmed, and is on its way by automatic carriers to the piling ground for drying out.

When well seasoned the planks are cut up into match lengths, much care being taken to cut out all knots. The blocks are thrown into crates mounted on trucks and wheeled to the cutting end of the match machine.

The blocks are fed into one end of the machine through a block conveyor, and come under a battery of forty-eight wonderful little circular knives, which gouge down lengthwise of the grain and come up each bearing a match splint. They make two hundred and fifty strokes a minute, cutting the large quantity of splints stated, every minute the machine is in operation. A shelf slides under the row of splints and with each upward stroke of the knives, forces their upper ends into perforations, slightly smaller than the splints, in a steel bar which forms one link of an endless chain, five hundred feet long. The splints are held securely in the bars and the long journey of fifty minutes around the circuit of the belt is begun.

A short distance from the knives the ends of the matches pass through a paraffine bath which makes them more inflammable. The paraffine is kept in a liquid state through an ingenious device by which as it cools beyond the desired temperature, it is drained off and a fresh supply of hot liquid is automatically added. Beyond this bath are two tipping rollers. The matches principally made are the double-tipped or noiseless kind. The phosphorus friction material and the chlorate of potash composition are put on separately. Each of these is kept melted in a reservoir in which the roller revolves at exactly the circumference speed as the belt bars are moving above it. The roller brings the material to the tips of the match splints, as they are brought along on the belt. Considerable space elapses between one clip and the next, allowing time to dry.

The matches are then carried over a series of reels bringing them into various positions to allow the pasty tip material to form a round head. The rest of the length of the belt is for the purpose of allowing the matches to become perfectly dry. The belt finally comes back to the starting point, but just before this point is reached the matches are punched out of their bar holder by a row of pins, one fitting each hole in the bar. Falling on a shelf the matches are conveyed on an endless chain to the packing tables where they are picked up by girls and placed in boxes. These are wrapped and sent to the shipping room. Including the five packers, seven persons are required to attend two machines, doing the work which in the older processes required about twenty-five persons for less capacity.

In another room in the front of the factory boxes are made by automatic machinery, the operations of which are only slightly less interesting than the matchmaking department. The boxboard comes to the factory in large rolls, and these are cut to the widths required for the various sized boxes. The box-board is fed in one end of the box machine, is cut, and formed to the proper shape and size, after first being printed with the name and brand of the company. A strip of sand is put on one side by passing the surface over a roller covered with hot glue and to which the sand clings when thrown up against it by an ingenious contrivance a few inches further on. The one long machine performs all these operations.

1 comment
  1. awbrynes says: January 14, 20136:43 am

    Meanwhile, 85 years later in Rwanda…

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