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Here’s a forgotten hero whose invention helped (and probably hindered) almost everybody in the world and yet he’s not just forgotten, it's very unlikely you’ve ever heard of him.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
A gasper ... When it all gets a bit too much, a good old-fashioned smoke is often the choice. Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash
Let’s try it. What’s John Walker famous for, even if he's not at all famous?

Most might suggest booze, a famous name for a brand of Scotch, but that’s not this John Walker, sorry.

Our inventor was a chemist, who by accident in 1829 created the match, the self-same that we often use to light the gas, the bonfire in the garden, and for sinners who smoke cigarettes.

In my early years, as a madly keen boy scout, I derived the greatest satisfaction from boiling a billy, as it was termed then, over an open fire.

Willow trees offered the best timber for a quick and just about smokeless fire and the humble weeping willow, salix babylonica, has remained a favourite tree ever since.

To be a successful scout, the fire had to be lit with no more than two matches.

Wikipedia tells us that the discovery of a match that offers a flame actually happened by accident when a piece of wood that John Walker had dipped in a lighting chemical caught fire by friction accidentally.

After the Second World War, it was estimated that by 1949, 81% of men and 39% of women smoked...

Apparently, he saw the potential immediately and so friction matches were created.

Wikipedia says his creation ‘consisted of wooden splints or sticks of cardboard coated with sulphur and tipped with a mixture of sulphide of antimony, chlorate of potash, and gum.’

A year's smokes

I smoked from teens till late thirties when I felt determined to become a solo Cape Horner.

Packing a yacht with almost a year’s cigarettes was not really a possibility. But until then, matches had been part of daily life.

And in National Service training for Trickie Dickie’s Vietnam war, the matches that fellow conscripts and I used so we could smoke!

Tank Museum dot org hints of the astonishing number that must have been used in the early part of the last century alone.

A social norm

‘By the 1920s,' it reports, 'smoking became a social norm practiced by both men and women.'

After the Second World War, due to the increasing acceptability of smoking, it was estimated that by 1949, 81% of men and 39% of women smoked.

Cigarettes were no longer a luxury item. They were considered to be a part of everyday life.

Fortunately (thankfully) life has changed. I wonder, though, about the number of forests that had to be felled for John Walker’s great invention to aid our very odd dragon-emulating human habit?

Thanks very much for visiting the mostly Tuesday and Thursday blogs for my adventure book, Sailing to Purgatory, which are introduced each time on Facebook Facebook dot com/Sailingtopurgatory and on Blogger,

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The blogs for Sailing to Purgatory are introduced on Facebook and Blogger.