How did people light matches off of anything, without sulphur or whatever on the side of the box?

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Off of walls or whatnot?

In: Chemistry
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If I’m not mistaken, matches that you light on the box are “safety matches” whereas matches that can be lit anywhere have both components on the match head itself.

Those kinds of matches are called “strike-anywhere” matches, as opposed to the safety matches you’re more familiar with.

The two chemicals typically found in matches are potassium chlorate and some type of phosphorous. In a safety match, the red phosphorous is impregnated into the side of the box, and you need to strike the match against it. The friction of the act of striking generates the heat needed for the two chemicals to react.

A strike-anywhere match, by contrast, puts the potassium chlorate and a different type of phosphorous together in the match head. All you need there is a source of heat (again, friction will do) and the match spontaneously lights.