Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal Arts
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NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
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John Everett Millais. Ophelia. 1851-1852


In the middle of the 19th century, brothers Karl and Johan Lundstrom glorified and enriched their native Sweden with their invention – after a few years 155 factories produced it, selling it all over Europe.

But it is not enough – thanks to their invention, one of the previously common types of suicide has practically disappeared.

What did they come up with?

The answer is a little later.




All animals are afraid of fire, and quite instinctively – even if they have never seen it, a forest fire turns them into a panic flight. There is only one exception – it is me and you. We are people. Fire also frightens us. But we know that it can be useful for many things.

Once I remembered that the first fire had already burned in one Chinese cave many years ago and had not been extinguished for thousands of years. It is clear why – these people got the fire by accident, after a forest fire or a lightning strike, and if the fire went out, they would not be able to light it again.

Who has read Roni Sr.’s book Fight for Fire as a Child? Its heroes, the ancient tribe of Ulamrs, who also received fire by accident, kept it in wooden baskets lined with flat stones. The fire was smoldering, because they fed it with chips and dry moss, and when the enemy destroyed these storages, they were forced to eat raw meat.

In those times people believed that the gods sent fire from heaven, and therefore they worshiped and prayed to it. This gift of the gods made their food more tasty and nutritious, protected them from the cold on frosty nights. Life without it seemed terrible to them, but they could not receive it themselves whenever they wanted.




Primitive man did not want to wait for favors from nature – he needed fire not only after a forest fire. Ideally, on demand, without any particular difficulties, and so that everything you need for it can be easily carried with you.

It seems that the Neanderthals still found a way not to wait for lightning – a dry board with a round hole, in which they rotated a round piece of wood with all their might, first with just their palms, and then with the bowstring of the bow. When it began to smolder, dry moss was brought to it, and chips were already lit from it.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Fire by friction in our time

At about the same time, they noticed that if you hit another stone with a certain stone, sparks would pour out of it, which might set fire to something flammable. This idea is still in demand in lighters, only the stones there are rare earth alloys.

These methods of making fire somehow suited people in the ancient world, especially since the ancient Greeks have added a new one – to aim with the help of a lens or a parabolic mirror. It was said that Archimedes burned the Roman fleet in such way, and it was even in the II century BC. It is not a modern invention! Modern experiments usually do not come out, but it was Archimedes!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Archimedes burns ships

It is recommended to use a similar method today in the conditions of a hike, if the matches run out. If there is no lens, it is advised to take instead, excuse me, a condom – pour water into it, squeeze it to the appropriate shape and use it as a lens. It is very modern – it is much more likely to find it in the pockets of the participants of the hike than a box of matches or a lighter…




So, until the beginning of the 19th century, almost every European going on the road, who might need to set a fire somewhere, had a flint in a bag or pocket – a simple device for producing sparks, fanning a fire and lighting a fire.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Andersen’s fire

The most important part of it was flint – a very hard mineral, which on impact, beat off crest from the second important part of the flint, metal shavings that glowed from the energy of the impact and set fire to the third important part of the flint – tinder. The smoldering tinder was fanned and something else was ignited.

Flint was usually a mineral – a mineral of silica, hence the name. Pyrite could also be used, which itself reacted with oxygen on impact and increased the effect of the sparks from the flint. Earlier the crest used to be iron, then mischmetals were invented – alloys with rare earth elements, which gave much more sparks.

The tinder was usually made of cellulose – cotton, cotton wool, dry moss, wood shavings, sometimes dried tinder fungus. Since it was important to keep it dry, it was kept in a special box – a tinderbox, to which a flint and a crest were chained.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Flint and Crest

They talk about very advanced flint models – hit the crest with a flint and a huge dog will appear that will do whatever you want! But only Andersen told about it, and he is such a storyteller – and you don’t know whether to believe him or not… However, fire was produced regularly with its help.




Special needs for making fire arose in war. Homer’s heroes were still able to set fire to enemy ships – how did they light the fire? To fire a pistol or a cannon, it was necessary to set fire to the powder seed, it was done with a smoldering wick – and with what was it set on fire?

To fire the first pistols, one had to hold a red-hot iron rod in his hand, with which the powder seed was set on fire – was it convenient in battle? Soon the rod was replaced with a smoldering wick, which activated the trigger – if it did.

It was replaced by the wheel castle – the only invention of Leonardo da Vinci, which went into mass production during his lifetime. A spring driven by a key, after pressing the trigger, turned the wheel and lowered the trigger with a flint on it, giving sparks.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Leonardo da Vinci’s wheel castle

Then a flint-impact lock appeared – a much stronger spring, when the trigger was pulled, hit the crest with a flint. It increased the rate of fire of the gun to 2-3 rounds per minute. You had to perform up to 30 operations for a shot – but in war as in war!




In peacetime, you want to light a stove or, which soon became a common thing, to light a pipe without such difficulties as in war. A new way to simplify the process of producing fire was proposed in China. They called it, like everything Chinese, beautiful and pretentious – “slaves who bring light”.

To use them, smoldering tinder was still required, but the very procedure for lighting fire with their help was simplified – a stick was brought to the tinder, the tip of which was covered with sulfur, it quickly flashed, and the fire was easy to start. In China, it was known as early as in the 13th century.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?

Three hundred years later, similar conveniences for lighting fire appeared in Europe. But they did not cancel the flint, and with it, you see for yourself, a lot of unpleasant fuss. So everyone was looking for a way to do without flint – so that such sticks would light up when they wanted it, and without much effort.

And in the Russian language for such sticks, it turns out, there was already a name – it was used to call wooden boot nails. What did they look like? They were on small knitting needles. So they were called like little knitting needles – that is, matches.




The first matches that ignite without a flint, by themselves, were invented by the Frenchman Jean Chancel in 1805. A head made of sulfur, cinnabar and berthollet salt was applied to a wooden stick, and it was dipped in a bottle of concentrated sulfuric acid, which had to be carried with you.

It was possible to do without a flint, but the medicine turned out to be worse than the disease – people don’t joke with sulfuric acid, and even concentrated. Just try to spill it – and you can get into trouble. Is it worth calling out Satan to tame Beelzebub? Obviously it is not worth of it.

A new step was taken in 1830 by the French chemist Charles Soria. He came up with matches that you just rub on a rough surface – and they flashed! It was considered gorgeous in those days to light such matches by striking the sole of the boot. It couldn’t be easier.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Charles Soria

However, everything that is too much is not so good. It was too easy to light these phosphorus matches. Sometimes they just flashed in a box in a person’s pocket. In addition, they burned so well that they burned out very quickly, and often they simply did not have time to light something else with them – the match burned out.

And the worst thing was that they were quickly adapted for suicide – swallowed a dozen match heads, and you are dead! Young girls were poisoned with matches very often – as they said then, because of unhappy love (an unauthorized pregnancy was gracefully called so in those 


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Suicide is often an impulsive decision. To reduce their numbers, deadly poison does not have to be as readily available and cheap as matches.

It means that you need to come up with matches that will be no less convenient than those that are, but which cannot be poisoned.




A number of inventors have found one or another solution to the problem that has arisen. But one of them became the most popular – because it was simpler, cheaper and more convenient than others. Perhaps it is no coincidence that it was made precisely in Sweden, which just at that time began to fight not for fame and new territories, but for reason, comfort, manufacturability and safety.

In 1855, the Swedish chemists Karl and Johan Lundstrom proposed a new match that used not poisonous white, but red phosphorus, much less harmful. Immediately after the invention, these matches received a medal at the World Exhibition in Paris.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Karl and Johan Lundstrom

They were practically safe – it was almost impossible to get poisoned by them, and, unlike the previous ones, these matches had absolutely no habit of spontaneously igniting. Sweden began to supply them to a large part of Europe, and the name “Swedish match” became generally accepted.

The girl with matches from Andersen’s fairy tale, frozen on the street, because she did not dare to return home to her cruel father without selling matches, clearly traded those dangerous matches – the tale was written in 1845, ten years before the invention of the Swedish ones.

Completely different results are characteristic among the traders of Swedish matches. When Emmanuel Nobel’s house burned down, his children had to sell matches – you know who they have become. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, started his business with the sale of matches.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Antique Swedish matches

However, the Swedish match has ousted its poisonous predecessors for more than half a century. A huge industry did not want to rebuild, and the owners of old factories did not want to lose profit. To hasten them, the excise tax on phosphorus matches was sharply increased in Russia, making it twice as much as the Swedish one. And by the beginning of the twentieth century, phosphorus matches were simply banned all over the world.




Nowadays matches are produced in the billions, and there are enough of them for everyone. The best tree for their production is the aspen mentioned in the Bible. They are used not only for their intended purpose – I myself played cards with other children for matches, and even now sometimes I use them instead of a toothpick…

An ordinary matchbox is also convenient because it is a ruler that is almost always at hand – its length is exactly 50 millimeters, and you can use it to estimate the size of an object. There are Match Museums in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Russia (in Lyubertsy) and even in our Kharkiv.

Matches are very different. For a fireplace – very long, for pipes – burning for a long time to have time to smoke tobacco, for cigars – for the same purposes, for hunting – burning in the wind and in the rain, for signal – with a colored flame, for photographic – giving a bright flash, etc.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to prevent many suicides?
Fireplace matches

But the most pleasant thing is that modern matches are completely safe, people are unlikely to be poisoned by them, and they are not prone to spontaneous combustion. So many thanks to Lundstrom brothers, who solved the problem – their matches replaced the others, and it is rightl!




A person knows how to harm himself and others so well that he does not need any help in it! If we release something in mass quantities, not thinking about the safety of the released product is a luxury that we cannot afford.

We are, of course, smarter than our primitive ancestors. But they knew how to light a fire by friction, and who of you can handle it? Progress is not only gains, but also losses.

Why was the wheel lock the only invention of Leonardo da Vinci successfully implemented during his lifetime? Probably because you can kill someone with it…

The matches, as you can see, were invented in China, and improved in Sweden. Do not look for a place where everything in the world was invented, this place is the whole world.

During his visit to London in 1897, the King of Siam, Chulalongkorn, sometimes began to climb the gutters – he collected match tags and could rush everywhere for a new one. It is very difficult to predict what a new invention will bring into our lives – even for kings…


All illustrations are from open sources

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