Inventing Fire

Tidaholm Safety Matches, 1860-1940. Tidaholm Match Company, Tidaholm, Sweden. Gift of George Ehrenfried, 89.7.10. Photograph by David Bohl.

In 1844, Swedish professor Gustaf Erik Pasch (1788-1862) invented the safety match. Swedish inventor and industrialist Johan Edvard (1815-1888) and his brother, Carl Frans Lundström (1823-1917), later refined and patented Pasch’s invention. They commercially manufactured non-phosphorous safety matches, similar to matches used today. The brothers opened a match factory in Jönköping, Sweden, in 1844 and debuted the safety matches to the public at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1855. The non-phosphorous matches with a separate striking feature proved safer than the earlier iterations of friction matches, first used in the late 1820s. 

The majority of match manufacturers were headquarted in Sweden in the late 1800s, but there were also a number of factories in the United States and other parts of Europe. In the U.S., businessman Ohio Columbus Barber (1841-1920) founded the Diamond Match Company in Akron, Ohio, in 1881. The Diamond Company was the largest manufacturer of matches in the United States in the late 1800s and is still active today.

The Museum & Library owns a number of match boxes manufactured in Europe and the United States.

Sport Safety Matches, 1860-1940. Sport Safety Matches, Finland. Gift of George Ehrenried, 89.7.9. Photograph by David Bohl.

These manufacturers include the Tidaholm Match Company, now known as Swedish Match, the Diamond Match Company, and Three Stars Safety  Match. Early match packaging was simple and usually only included a factory name and sometimes instructions for use. Later boxes not only illustrate the different brand names but also eye-catching  designs printed on the front and back. 

As matches gained popularity, businesses began to also use the packaging as a tool for inexpensive advertising and marketing. Match boxes featured illustrations related to food, liquor, beauty products, historical events, and even political propaganda. Match books enjoyed peak popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. Sales of matchbooks declined, as disposable lighters became more common and as numerous anti-smoking campaigns discouraged people from smoking.




Safety Matches, 1860-1940. The Diamond Match Company, Ohio. Gift of George Ehrenfried, 89.7.14-15. Photograph by David Bohl.

"We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours": Perry's Victory on Lake Erie

Perry, 74_3_2DI1 This print depicts a signal moment in the career of Oliver Hazard Perry (1785–1819), the commander of the U.S. naval fleet on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, a conflict which ended in 1815. On the morning of September 10, 1813, British Naval Commander Robert Barclay fired the first shots of what would become one of the most important naval battles in the war. The confrontation took place on the western end of Lake Erie, near what is now Sandusky, Ohio. You can see a map of its location here. After hours of fighting, Perry abandoned his badly damaged flagship, the USS Lawrence, and took command of a relatively unscathed vessel, the Niagara, from her less-experienced commander, Lieutenant Jesse Elliott. The battle began anew, and the British ships—whose senior officers had been wounded or killed—soon surrendered. Perry informed U.S. General William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) of the victory with the now-famous words, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” This strategic triumph ensured American control of the Great Lakes and secured Perry the name, “The Hero of Lake Erie.”

Although publishers Kurz and Allison did not identify the original painting that inspired this print, two monumental paintings by William Henry Powell (1823–1879) clearly served as a jumping-off point for the engraver. The legislature in Ohio, Powell’s home state, commissioned one in 1857. Completed in 1865, it now hangs in rotunda of the State House. The U.S. Senate's Joint Committee on the Library commissioned the other, larger version in the months after the first painting went on view. It has hung in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol since 1873.

GW Crossing the Delaware, 74_2_13DI1 Like many historic prints, this image reflects the era in which it was made as much as the event it depicts. For example, both Perry’s heroic stance in the boat and the flag behind him recall Emanuel Leutze's iconic 1851 painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware, an image that a far-reaching audience found familiar, thanks to a widely available 1853 print. In addition, although a number of the sailors in Perry’s fleet were African American, Powell may have included the black sailor in his 1857 painting to highlight the issues of slavery and race during the years leading up to the Civil War. Several decades later, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, Kurz and Allison followed suit when making their copy of the image.

You can see both Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie and Washington Crossing the Delaware in the exhibition, “The Art of American History: Prints from the Collection,” now on view in the Museum’s newly renovated lobby area.


Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie, late 1800s. Kurz and Allison (1880–1903), publishers, Chicago, Illinois. Special Acquisitions Fund, 74.3.2.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1853. Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868), artist; Paul Girardet (1821–1893), engraver; M. Knoedler (1823–1878), publisher, New York, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 74.2.13.

A Masonic Squirrel Mascot

93_035T1 Among the more than 16,000 objects in the National Heritage Museum collection, Masonic symbols appear on a mind-boggling number of items – clothing, furniture and ceramics, to name just a few.  The ceramic squirrel statuette seen here is unusual, but comes complete with the familiar square and compasses.  Known as “sewer tile” folk art, figurines like this squirrel were made from a type of clay used in the production of sewer pipe.  The clay for the pipe was locally dug, poured into plaster molds and then fired in the kiln.  Throwing buckets of salt into the kiln at the height of the firing achieved the golden brown glaze. 

After a long day of monotonously turning out pieces of pipe, some employees used their creativity to make these whimsical items after hours.  Some sources suggest that these figures were popular gifts from factory employees to their family members.  While the maker of this figurine is unidentified, Ohio was a center for sewer tile folk art because of its rich natural deposits of red and white clay.  The state was home to many sewer pipe and brick companies, providing both the materials and the opportunity for local workers.

These items seem to have originated around 1880 and continued to be made into the early 1900s.  Figures, like the squirrel, were usually cast in molds.  Other popular animals include lions, dogs and pigs.  In addition to figural items, some artists made functional pieces like match holders or ashtrays.  Inspiration for the animal figurines may have come from imported fine ceramic Staffordshire figurines, which were popular during the late 1800s, but considerably more expensive.

Masonic sewer tile squirrel, 1880-1900, probably Ohio, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of E.R. Moody Family, 93.035, photograph by David Bohl.