Wise Up

Colonel James Barker

Col. Barker changed the match industry forever, raising standards by which business was conducted. By Captain David Kelly
Wise Up
Colonel James Barker

Real quick, before we get started, Google “phossy jaw.” We’ve got time. I’ll wait.

Gross, right? Well, phossy jaw was an affliction caused by white phosphorus, and it really did a number on the employees of the matchstick factories in 19th century Britain. “Phosphorus necrosis” meant the decay of the teeth and jawbone, resulting in excruciating pain, disfigurement and the discharge of an oozing pus in the mouth. It was so gross that most doctors and nurses wouldn’t even treat it. 

Britain did not require safety regulations for these match stick factories, so most factories didn’t bother implementing them and left the employees’ jaws to rot away from the vapors. “Hazards of the job,” they shrugged.

Enter Colonel James Barker.

Plucked from Melbourne, Australia, the Colonel was brought to London to investigate the conditions of England’s match factories. Relentless and methodical, he toured every large match factory in London to learn how to build a better one. When he had concluded his investigation, he used his findings to open The Salvation Army’s own match factory, which paid more than the established factories. He also made matches that were produced safely, posing no danger of phossy jaw to the workers.

They bought and outfitted an old building in East London and began making the original “Fair Trade” matches. They were branded “Lights in Darkest England” with The Salvation Army crest and even “security from fire,” as a wink to The Salvation Army’s belief in salvation from hell! They sold well—well enough that competing factories were forced to offer similar protections.

The most important outcome of Colonel Barker’s work was how it illuminated (haha, get it?) the problems in the industry. Parliament, shaken and stirred to action, enacted regulations within a year that mandated ventilation equipment for factories that used white phosphorous. By 1901, the big companies stopped using white phosphorus altogether, and in 1908, phosphorus matches were made illegal in Britain. In the words of M, “Well done, James.”

So What?

Colonel Barker changed the industry through raising the standards by which business was conducted. He was so effective, eventually everyone else followed suit. How can you elevate the standards where you live?

You May Also Like