Bryant & May ‘Pearl’ safety matches, London, England, 1890-1940
Match-making was a particularly dangerous job in the 1800s. Workers – mainly women – employed by companies such as Bryant & May to make matches commonly experienced a condition known as phossy jaw. This was caused by poisoning from the yellow phosphorous used in the head of the match. Phossy jaw was a terribly disfiguring and sometimes fatal condition. Eventually, a combination of this health danger, poor pay and long hours led to the formation of a trade union for the workers. The Match Girls Strike of 1888, led by social activist Annie Besant (1847-1933), was a landmark industrial action and led to better pay. In 1901, Bryant & May finally stopped using yellow phosphorous in their matches.
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Glossary: match box
Glossary: phossy jaw