Birthplace: Stockton-on-Tees, England
Location of death: Stockton-on-Tees, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Mary the Virgin Church Parish Yard, Norton, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Chemist, Inventor
Executive summary: Invented the friction match
Matches in various forms have been used in combination with flint and steel or other substances to make fire since about 600 AD, but the friction match, requiring nothing but a quick rub on a rough surface, was invented in 1827. John Walker, an English dispensing chemist (pharmacist), discovered that cardboard strips dipped in a mixture of potassium chloride and stibnite and then allowed to dry would ignite when scraped rapidly against sandpaper. Walker soon switched from cardboard to three-inch wooden sticks, and in 1827 he began selling what were called "friction lights", and came to be called "lucifers" in slang.
Since he did not obtain a patent, Walker received neither fame nor wealth for his invention of the now-common match, but he was able to retire some years before his death in 1859. Sir Isaac Holden (b. 1807, d. 1897) was widely credited with inventing the match until both Holden and Walker were dead, but the original ledger from Walker's shop was subsequently found, which shows that Walker was selling his matches for at least two years before Holden began making matches of a similar chemical compound.
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