Dangerous Jobs: Real Match Girls

Jobs and Tech

On a cold winter night, a little girl lights her matches to keep warm. She sacrifices everything just to see the fantastic images created by the flame of the matches. You may have heard of “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen, a story of a girl who can’t go home until she has sold her matches. She isn’t the only match girl in history, however. In the same century, “matchstick girls” suffered terrible health issues manufacturing matches.

In 1845, Andersen published his tale of a girl who is too afraid to go home and be beaten if she doesn’t sell her matches on the street. Shivering from cold, she lights one, then another, and another as she sees comforting visions of a Christmas tree, food, and finally, her late grandmother. The story was an insight into the horrible conditions of the poor. 

In the 1800s, people worked in horrible conditions: long hours in factories in unsafe and unhealthy environments. Both children and adults worked in these places. In 1888, the “matchstick girls” made news headlines with a strike that brought attention to the dangerous conditions of the factory where the matchstick girls worked.

They worked long hours, starting at 6:30 in the morning for little pay. Some girls started working at these factories as young as age 13. Thousands of people labored at these factories in terrible conditions to manufacture matches, working with machinery after receiving insufficient training.

The women worked 14-hour days in London and were exposed to deadly phosphorous vapors from the white phosphorous dipped onto the tips of matches. The toxic phosphorous caused health complications such as “phossy jaw” that caused the jaw to rot. The purpose of the strike was to improve working conditions, but it was decades later before white phosphorous was banned from public use.

Today, wooden matches are made entirely by machines. The process is safer for the workers compared to a century ago. When you think about it, a match is such a small item, but it has more impact than just creating a flame.

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11 thoughts on “Dangerous Jobs: Real Match Girls

  1. A marvellous post, Vanya. Hans Christian Andersen was so far ahead of his time with his observations and being prepared to make comment on society at that time through his stories. Imagine if there was such a writer around today.

    My great, great, great grandmother (and her mother as a young unmarried mum) lived at a time in England in the early 1800s where they were consigned to a “work house.” Their existence was one of incredibly long days and back breaking work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree that he made some really great comments on society.
      I watched a video series on Victorian England with one episode about what it was like to live in a workhouse. The tasks were extremely difficult and the living conditions were terrible. Only those who were very desperate would live in a workhouse.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this historical account, my friend. Fortunately, much has changed since that time, and automation has yielded a safer working environment. Given your business acumen, I thought that, if you haven’t already seen the video entitled “I, Pencil”, you might enjoy it… https://cei.org/i-pencil/ Have a great day, Vanya 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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