It dates back to 577 AD when women of a town in North China used sticks coated with a mixture of chemicals to start fires for cooking and heating. This saved them conserve the limited fuel they had access to. Joshua Pussey of the USA patented the first matchbook matches in 1892. Initially, the process to produce matchsticks were manually operated but now a highly automated process using continuous-operation machines can produce as many as 10 million matches in a single eight-hour shift with only a handful to monitor the operation.
Traditionally Indian matchwoods are Indian aspen (Evodia roxburghiana) and white mutty (Ailanthus malabarica), both suitable for high-quality splint, and, semul (Bombax ceiba, also known as Indian cottonwood) which is good for boxes as well as splints.
The production process starts with the logs being clamped in a debarking machine and slowly rotated while spinning blades cut away the outer bark of the tree. Then the stripped logs are chopped into short lengths and a thin sheet of wood called veneer is produced. The chopper acts on the veneer to produce 1000 matchsticks in a single stroke. Matchsticks are soaked in Ammonium Phosphate for several minutes and then dried in a rotating drum, which polishes and cleans them of any crystallized chemical or splinters. Then they are blown through a metal duct to the storage area. The conveyor belts transfer the sticks from the storage area to holes in the perforated belt. The belt holds the matchsticks upside down. It immerses the lower portion of the sticks in a bath of hot paraffin wax. Sticks are allowed to dry after they emerge from the wax. The next unit where the matchsticks will emerge is a tray filled with a liquid solution of the match head chemicals. Thousands of sticks are coated at the same time as the tray is momentarily raised to immerse the ends of the sticks in the solution. To make sure that the matchsticks light properly the matches must be dried very slowly, hence the belt loops up and down several times as the matches dry for 50-60 minutes. The belt now moves the dry matches into the packaging area. They now get dumped from the hoppers (which measure the proper amount of matches for each box) into the cardboard match boxes, which are moving along a conveyor belt located below the hoppers. A parallel conveyor belt contains the outer portions of the matchboxes. Both of the conveyor belt stops as the filled inner portions are pushed into the outer portions. The rate at which the cycle of filling the inner portions and pushing them into the outer portions goes on is about one per second.
A million sticks are attached to the perforated belt at a point of time and this means that the working environment must be kept free of all sources of accidental ignition. The western markets are drying up due to the availability of inexpensive, disposable lighters as Indian companies look to ship the produce to foreign shores for better revenues.