Sunday, March 3Not Your Ordinary English-Tagalog Dictionary

What is Safety Match in Tagalog? Origin, Design, and Dark Past

The safety match in Tagalog is called “posporo,” which came from the Spanish word, “fosforo” (phosphorus). The matchstick itself is called “palito ng posporo.” Despite the popularity of lighters, many people still use matches to light a fire. This is because matches are cheaper and safer to use since they are slower to ignite. Matches leave biodegradable waste, too.

safety match in Tagalog
Safety Matches in the Philippines

Technically, there are two main types of matches – the strike-anywhere matches and the safety matches. As the name implies, strike-anywhere matches can light a fire when used on a frictional surface. The head contains phosphorus sesquisulfide, a non-toxic compound that converts into flammable white phosphorus when struck across a rough surface.

On the other hand, the head of safety matches has no phosphorus. Instead, it contains filters, glass powder, potassium chlorate, and sulfur. Match heads are red not because of the chemicals but to indicate that this is the part that creates fire. The sides of the match box are the ones with phosphorus, which converts into white phosphorus and ignites the match-head.

The flammable nature of phosphorus was discovered by alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669. Before that, the traditional way of creating friction fire is by rubbing dry wood sticks. This fire-making technique was recreated by Tom Hanks in the iconic movie, “Cast Away.” The first matchsticks were recorded in China, dating back to AD 577, and were made of pinewood with sulfur.

Since chemical matches were unsafe, they did not make it into mass production. As an alternative, French chemist Francois Derosne created a briquette phosphorique in 1816. To create fire, his crude match uses a sulfur-tipped match to scrape an internally phosphor-coated tube. However, it was dangerous and inconvenient to use and did not become popular.

Meanwhile, John Walker, a chemist in Stockton on Tees unintentionally invented the friction match in 1826. While conducting explosive experiments in his shop, he accidentally scraped a mixing stick on the hearth and it created fire. Walker first sold his “Friction Light” matches with sandpaper but later replaced it with three pieces of wooden splints.

Despite the popularity of his invention, Walker did not file for a patent, thinking that it would eventually benefit mankind. In 1829, Scottish inventor Isaac Holden developed an improved version but also did not file for a patent. Soon after, London chemist Samuel Jones copied the idea and sold his own version and called it “Lucifers.” But still, these matches were unsafe and released unpleasant odors.

Nonetheless, matchmaking became an industry in England and factories spread across the country. Bryant & May was a known match factory in the 19th century but allegedly maltreated its laborers and was involved in child labor. Aside from that, Phossy jaw became a common disease among those who worked in phosphorus match factories in Europe and the US.

In the early 20th century, the use of white phosphorus in manufacturing matches was banned all over the world. This led to the development of safety matches, in which red phosphorus was placed on the striking surface instead of the matchstick heads. In the Philippines, Phimco (Philippine Match Company) is the first match factory, which was established in 1906 and is still in operation.

Use posporo in a sentence.


Pagtapos mo gamitin ang posporo, itago mo sa hindi maabot ng mga bata.


After using the safety matches, keep them away from children’s reach.

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