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Bill reveals the importance of matches in the 19th century; he shares how adding phosphorous to them revolutionized life - in both good and bad ways.

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Transcript Herbert Spencer, the great philosopher of the 19th century, called this [a match] the greatest boon and blessing that had come to mankind in the nineteenth century."

Now, no doubt, making a flame with a central problem of life in the 19th century. In order to make a flame before the match you used a knife: You took a blade, a piece of flint and you made a spark. No wonder Charles Dickens said you could make a flame in half an hour "with luck."

But this was the next boon for mankind and matches: Phosphorus. Its highly ignitable, you can light it just by striking it on something. Now the problem is that phorphous was expensive.

[Picks up cat]

Phorphous is made from animal urine, and that means it is very expensive. It takes about a barrel to make an ounce of phorphous and that makes it very expensive. So, the rich could have it; they could play with it. Then they found it in the bone of animals.

[Talking to cat:] We will not make phorophous out of you.

Now for matches, though, it still presented a problem: And that is that phorphous would explode violently. But a Swede, named Lundstrom solved the problem: He invented safety matches. What he did was put the phorphous on the sandpaper outside of the box. So that when you strike the match on the box, the chemicals on the box react and make a flame.

No doubt phorphous was a great boon for mankind, but it also figured in the wars of the 20th century. - in trace bullets, incendiary bomb, and smoke granades - in fact phosphours bombs did a lot of damage in World War II.

And that should remind us of an aphorism "technology is neither good, nor bad; nor is it neutral." It depends on the person at the controls.