Everyone has heroes. Librarians have Melvil Dewey, auto enthusiasts have Henry Ford...and we have Joshua Pusey. Ol' Josh, a Philadelphia lawyer, invented the matchbook in 1892 right here in the United States.* Diamond Match Company purchased the rights to it in 1894, and the matchbook was on its way.

When the first commercially printed matchcover was produced, and who was responsible for it, are murky questions. The best current guess is Binghamton Match Co., NY, 1893/1894. Binghamton was actually the first to produce a matchbook from Pusey's invention, but Diamond, according to the story, sued them out of existence for patent infringements. One of the earliest covers is the "Piso" matchcover. Apparently, it was actually displayed at the 1952 RMS convention, but to my knowledge hasn't been seen since.

There is another close contender, though. Kaeser & Blair, c. 1895. Kaeser & Blair was, and still is, an advertising/ novelty/jack-of-all trades company whose association with matchbooks goes back almost to the very beginnings. I have a letter from the president of the company stating that he is under the impression that it was, indeed, K & B which printed the first matchbook. Perhaps it was Kaeser & Blair that printed the Piso cover for Binghamton. Other than that, however, I've been able to find neither any substantiating nor any conflicting information.

 A particularly famous early advertising cover appeared in 1889, when the manager of the Mendelson Opera Company bought 200 blank matchbooks and had hand-printed messages and pictures of the opera’s leading players put on them. There is only one copy of this matchbook left today. It was owned by Diamond International for many years and was insured for $25,000. [see pic on main page]. Last time I heard, it was owned by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia and was on display at Diamond's headquarters in Cloquet, MN.

The next big milestone in our exciting story came in 1902, when a young salesman for Diamond, H. C. Traute, strolled into the office one afternoon with an order for 10 million matchbooks from Pabst Brewing Co. Up to that point, matchbooks hadn't caught on in any major way, but this was the first large-scale order, and it heralded a new era in the American match manufacturing industry. It was also Traute, by the way, who came up with the phrase, "Close Cover Before Striking."

From there, matchbooks reached their golden age in the 1940s and 1950s, with fine artwork and a dazzling variety of types and sizes. In the mid-1980s, the American match industry collapsed, a victim of high labor costs and overseas competition, and with the current anti-smoking campaigns and disposable lighters, the easy availability of the matchbook has been on the decline since the early 1990s. Whether it will eventually disappear all together in the future is anyone's guess. Because of its American origins, the matchbook has always been basically a phenomenon of the Western World. The rest of the world has always mainly stayed with the matchbox. One would think, at least domestically, that the matchbook would stay alive for its advertising advantages alone...we'll see. 

[* Pusey's claim as the inventor of the matchbook has been challenged, since it didn't look like the matchbook we know today. On June 20, 1893, Charles Bowman patented a matchbook that does looks like our matchbook today (and he had actually applied for his patent in 1892).]

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