Remember that invention? Yeah, that unappealing box that holds short, thin pieces of wood, tipped with a mixture of fire-producing substances, and used to produce a flame. [Source: Encarta.]
Believe it or not, we could see the entire history of human civilization compressed in a matchbox. For, the easier it was to make fire, more advanced human civilization was.
- Fire-making technology. I would not argue that Prometheus stole fire from the gods, but around 30’000 years ago, people used rock and flint to start fire. Around that time too, people found that rubbing two pieces of wood together furiously, would make fire. Thus, friction (or theft, by Prometheus) was the first genius.
- Chemical engineering. Around late first millennia, someone in some Chinese court discovered gunpowder. And thought it looked pretty and used it to ward off demons. (Until someone else figured out a gun and then hell broke loose.) Anyway, a thousand years after the invention of gunpowder, someone else in France discovered the right chemical combination that sits on the tip of a wooden match.
- Woodcutting technology. Ah, that. From the axe on logs, to the steaming engines in the industrial revolution, to the electrical machineries that cut, and dried and laid the wooden sticks in its thin & short form.
- Papermaking. How many people did it take to invent a damn cardboard box? Paper was invented around 2000 years ago. Papermaking machines were invented in 1800s by two enthusiastic brothers somewhere in Britain. The chemical quotations that broke wood into paper, was invented around 1850s.
- Adhesive. Who knows, whether vegetable or synthetic or spit, someone somewhere had to calculate the right amount of glue that would hold the box together, without turning the cardboard into blubber.
All in all, it only took about 30 to 2 thousand years for the matchbox to exist in its modern day form. It took that much of time and effort and curiosity, across so many generations to create the simple, denigrate matchbox.
Isn’t that something?