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New Morbid Terminology: Phossy Jaw, The Occupational Disease of Matchstick Makers

There are a range of diseases, traumas and skeletal markers that can occur regularly with certain types of occupations.

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Occupational photograph of Victorian match girls, ca. 1888. These girls worked in terrible conditions, for 14 hours a day, and received very little pay for their work. The phosphorous used in making matches caused hair and teeth loss, yellowing of the skin, and "phossy jaw", a type of facial bone cancer.

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Ripper Street | The strike was caused by the poor working conditions in the match factory, including fourteen-hour work days, poor pay, excessive fines and the severe health complications of working with white phosphorus, such as phossy jaw, but was sparked by the dismissal of one of the workers on or about 2 July

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Matchsticks Once Sickened and Deformed Women and Children

This work paid poorly, and half of the employees in this industry were kids who hadn’t even reached their teens. While working long hours indoors in a cramped, dark factory put these children at risk of contracting tuberculosis and getting rickets, matchstick making held a specific risk: phossy jaw.

Disease was another constant threat. With no separate facilities provided, workers would eat at their benches, with “disease as the seasoning to their bread”. “Phossy jaw”, a disfiguring and painful disease, was the possible result.

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New Morbid Terminology: Phossy Jaw, The Occupational Disease of Matchstick Makers

Archival drawing from 19th c of phossy jaw by Mutter, via Gizmodo

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