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Various lighters
Upper row:
gas lighters with flint from the 1950s and 1990s
Bottom row:
gas lighter with piezo ignition as a ballpoint pen , disposable lighter with flint and gasoline lighter with flint and sliding storm ring
Prehistoric lighter with tinder, pyrite and flint
Table lighters
Friction wheel and flint of a disposable lighter
Gas lighter (burning of butane)

A lighter is a handy device for creating a flame . The ignition of the fuel ( gasoline for gasoline lighter, butane or propane for gas lighter) takes place via sparks that are generated with a friction wheel on a flint , or piezoelectrically .


Originally the lighter (from Middle High German viurziuc ) was not a single device, but referred to the stuff with which one makes a fire . A distinction is made between four basic methods of intended fire generation :

  1. Hitting (percussion) a spark remover ( like with a flint ) against a spark generator ( sulfur pebbles ),
  2. Rubbing (friction) of wood against wood, see main article fire drilling ,
  3. Discharge by piezoelectric effect and
  4. Compression (compression) of air (see fire pump ).

These methods were widespread worldwide and have been proven archaeologically and ethnographically. There are no references to friction lighters (fire drill, fire plow, fire plow, fire saw) in European Stone Age sites. The prehistoric (Stone Age to Iron Age) standard lighter in Europe consisted of a flint , a sulfur gravel bulb, pyrite or marcasite and tinder from a tree sponge (tinder sponge ). Part of the oldest known European lighter, a small sulfur gravel bulb with a circumferential trace of wear from sparking, was discovered in the Vogelherd cave in Baden-Württemberg in a layer from the early Upper Palaeolithic ( Aurignacia ) and dated to around 32,000 years before our era. Finds from Neolithic graves suggest that the utensils were kept in a leather pouch attached to the belt. In the belt of the glacier mummy Ötzi from the Similaunjoch there were remains of a lighter in the form of a tinder sponge with tiny silica crystals (the so-called black mass); the corresponding bulb of gravel and a fire stone were missing. At the latest in the early Roman times since the 1st century AD, probably as early as the pre-Roman Iron Age, the pebbles were replaced by a carbon-rich and hardened piece of forged steel ( fire steel ).

In 250 BC Ktesibios discovered that an air pressure gun he had used gave off sparks when the piston left the cylinder. In 1770 Charles-François Dumouriez invented a pneumatic lighter, consisting of a cylinder into which a piston with a little fire sponge is driven as quickly as possible in a cavity at the end. This fire sponge is ignited by compression heat and the embers can be used. In 1803 this lighter system was further developed by the French Joseph Mollet and offered as a tachypyrion from 1806 .

The original form of the modern lighter was invented by the chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner , who - supported by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - taught at the University of Jena . In 1823 he developed the Döbereiner lighter, a platinum lighter that uses zinc and sulfuric acid to generate hydrogen . The hydrogen flows from a nozzle onto a platinum sponge , which ignites the hydrogen due to the catalytic effect of the platinum.

The US company Repeating Light Co. in Springfield (Massachusetts) received a patent in 1865 for the pocket lighter it had developed. Modern pocket lighters have been around since the beginning of the 20th century, when the Austrian Carl Auer von Welsbach invented a pyrophoric alloy for flints in 1903. The Auermetall named after him , also called Cereisen, is still used today in disposable lighters, which generate sparks with a thumb-turned wheel, or mechanical gas lighters.

The Tibetan melcags are known in Asia .

Ignition mechanisms

In a lighter with a friction wheel, small parts of the sparking material are torn out by friction. These parts ignite in the air and thus sparks arise. The same mechanism was used in the wheel lock of firearms in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today's flints are made of cerium iron .

Lighter sparks when igniting.

In the case of a piezoelectric lighter to ignite a lighter flame, a small firing pin is cocked and automatically released when there is enough pressure, which causes a click. The firing pin is now driven by the tensioned spring and hits a piezoelectric body at high speed . When deformed, this generates an electrical voltage in the order of magnitude of a few kilovolts, which triggers a spark between two connected electrodes. This spark ignites the gas mixture flowing past it. In spite of the high voltage and the high amperage in the brief moment of the sparkover, contact is harmless, albeit uncomfortable. The total energy or charge transferred is too low for this.

The ignition temperature of the pneumatic lighter is created by compressing the air. However, such devices are rather impractical and unusual.

To light fires also see fire drill , flint / pyrite / scale and magnifying glass .

Gas lighter

Also Gasanzünder sometimes called lighter. They are used to ignite gas flames from gas-powered stoves, heaters or (soldering) lamps and work on the piezoelectric principle or traditionally with Auermetall / friction wheel.

Types of flame generation

Gasoline lighter

Gas lighter

  • With diffusion burners, the fuel flows through a reducing valve at high pressure from the housing into the burner nozzle. After exiting the nozzle, air comes in from the outside as an oxidizer and the gas burns there with a bright yellow diffusion flame.
  • Partial premix burners achieve a higher burning temperature and greater resistance of the flame to the effects of wind thanks to a helical spring at the nozzle outlet, through which air is sucked in shortly before the start of the combustion process and which reduces the nozzle cross-section towards the point of ignition. In the upper third of the spring, the gas burns with a blue-yellow flame.
  • With premix burners, air is sucked in at the nozzle inlet through large air supply openings and swirled with the gas via wall irregularities on the way to the nozzle outlet.
    • Jet flame lighter with three burners
      Ikari burners (also known as jet flame lighter ) form a long, needle-thin, non-luminous, blue flame after ignition and are therefore - to a limited extent - also suitable for fine soldering work.
    • Catalysis burner
      Catalysis or Nainen burners (also glowing point lighter ) have a ring-shaped opening approx. 0.5 cm above the nozzle outlet with a so-called reaction grid or a coiled wire that is heated by the pilot flame and causes the gas flowing through to constantly reignite through catalytic combustion . Nainen burners form a conical, short, non-luminous, blue flame above the reaction grid, which has the diameter of the ring opening at the base. It is retained by the glowing reaction grid even in strong winds and blasts of air, but due to its low height it is only suitable to a limited extent for lighting pipes or open fireplaces, for example. This type of burner was developed in Japan at the end of 1983.

Gas lighters no longer work at temperatures well below freezing point, because the vapor pressure of the butane lighter gas portion decreases too much as the temperature drops and therefore not enough gas flows out.

Gas lighters are available as refillable models and as disposable lighter. The ignition mechanism is a friction wheel / Auermetall or a piezo igniter.

Electric lighter


A glow wire is used, which is usually fed from a rechargeable battery. The switch is usually integrated into the locking mechanism, which means that the wire starts to glow as soon as the lighter is opened. The heat from the filament can ignite cigarettes and the like. Such lighters are known as cigarette lighters in cars. There they are switched on by pressing in the mobile part provided with the heating wire and, thanks to a bimetal mechanism, jump out a little when they are hot.

Arc lighter

Head of an arc / plasma lighter in operation

Arc, plasma or Tesla lighters work with a gas discharge , i.e. H. a small, air-burning arc between two or four exposed electrodes. For this purpose, the battery voltage is increased with a transverter . Like the filament device, the arc lighter has no consumables or wear parts.

Match lighter

Match lighter, open and closed

So-called match lighters are also known to this day. Its characteristic is a 5–20 mm thick cord-shaped fuse made of braided, chemically impregnated cotton . The chemical treatment only makes the fuse glow, there is no flame. The first match lighters have been known since the early 19th century. At this time, the ignition takes place by means of a fire steel and flint attached to the lighter.

With the patenting of the so-called Cereisen (Auermetall) in 1903, match lighters appeared, which produce sparks from a piece of Cereisen according to the strike and tear principle. The first match lighters with classic friction wheel ignition appeared in 1906 at the earliest. Since then, fuse lighters have had their typical shape: a short, thicker metal tube for guiding the fuse (fuse tube), on which a second, thinner metal tube (flint tube), in which a cylindrical flint is mounted, is mounted in parallel at a small distance in different ways by means of a so-called intermediate web (Cereisen) of the standard size 5 × 2.5 mm is pressed by an underlying coil spring against the friction wheel attached to the upper end. The flint tube is usually closed at the lower end by means of a screw with differently dimensioned slotted or edge-grooved head or a grub screw, thus locking the coil spring.

Also known are models in whose flint tube a spring-loaded pin presses the cerium stone against the friction wheel (for example from the US company Bowers, Kalamazoo / Michigan). In such cases, the cerium stone is inserted through a side opening in the flint tube. At the upper end of the fuse, a cap of various shapes, usually located on a small chain, is hung over a needle hook (with or without a chain). If you pull the lower, free end of the fuse, then the cap closes the fuse tube, the access of oxygen is prevented and the embers die off. The embers are enough to light cigarettes or pipe tobacco or to start a fire.


Matches, together with a rubbing surface and storage box, were also referred to as lighter in the parlance of the 19th century, but they do not have the reusable character of a lighter.


Since March 11, 2008, simple lighters without child safety and lighters with entertainment effects may no longer be placed on the market in the European Union . On commercial flights, it is generally not permitted to take storm lighters with a standing flame ("Ikari burners") on board.

Lighters as objects of prestige and value

Lighters are mass-produced, but are also manufactured as handicraft products, similar to watches. There are elaborate designs made of gold or lighters decorated with gemstones . Not only the material value decides the price, but it is based on the limited number of models. The “Diamond Rain” lighter, for example, is made of 18-carat white gold and is decorated with over 1000 diamonds and was traded for € 40,000. The most expensive lighter in the world has a price of € 64,670. It is called "Dragon" because of its golden dragon head. It is also adorned with 88 diamonds.

See also


  • Georg Brandes, Rolf Jarschel: Fire and Flame. Interesting facts about the lighter . VEB Sachbuchverlag Leipzig, 1988, ISBN 3-343-00453-7 .
  • Paul Adolf Kirchvogel, Birgit Rehfus: Feuerzeug , in: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte , Vol. 8, 1983, Col. 608–617
  • Ad van Weert: Fascinating lighters. The history of the lighter - from sulfur sticks to design objects . University printing and publishing house Hermann Schmidt, Mainz 1995, ISBN 3-87439-341-0 .
  • Jürgen Weiner: Unusual find from a World War II battlefield near Elsdorf . Archäologie im Rheinland 2002, pp. 193–195. (Stuttgart)
  • Jürgen Weiner: One Unique model, my foot! Oberservations concerning the Dunhill "Windproof" . BLAZE 103, 2005, pp. 6-9.
  • Jürgen Weiner: A 'Tentative' Classification of Rope Lighters. The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society 17, June 2009, pp. 48-57.
  • J. Weiner: Fire production in the Neolithic . In: T. Otten, J. Kunow,: M. Rind, M. Trier (eds.) Revolution Neolithic. Writings on the preservation of monuments in North Rhine-Westphalia 11.1 . Darmstadt 2015, p. 231.
  • J. Weiner: The Christmas present of a lifetime! . In: T. Otten, J. Kunow, MM Rind, M. Trier (eds.) Revolution Neolithic. Writings on the preservation of monuments in North Rhine-Westphalia 11.2 . Darmstadt 2015, pages 246–247.
  • Jürgen Weiner: Fire stones and fire generation . In: H. Floss (Ed.) Stone artifacts from the Old Paleolithic to the modern era. Tübingen Publications in Prehistory. Tübingen 2012, pp. 943-960.
  • Jürgen Weiner, Harald Floss: A sulfur gravel bulb from the Aurignacien vom Vogelherd, Baden-Württemberg. At the beginning of fire-making in the European Paleolithic . Archaeological Information 27.1, 2004, pp. 59–78, doi: 10.11588 / ai.2004.1.12609 .
  • Jürgen Weiner, Harald Floss: Definitely confirmed after almost 70 years: the oldest lighter in the world. In: Ice Age - Art and Culture. Large State Exhibition Stuttgart (Stuttgart 2009) 223–225.

Web links

Wiktionary: Lighter  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Lighter  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Philon, Mechanics, Book 4, Chapter 61
  2. Japanese patent application JP000S60101419A, to explain the principle also patent application US5898013.
  3. Decision 2006/502 / EG of the European Commission (PDF)
  4. Decision 2007/231 / EG of the European Commission (PDF)
  5. [1] It is generally not permitted to bring petrol lighters. In rare individual cases, it is tolerated if the cotton wool and wick have been removed.
  6. Report on the "Dragon" lighter. Retrieved May 5, 2016 .