Town Has Honored Bust Since 1977— It's the Wrong Guy

Stockton-on-Tees commissioned a bust of the wrong John Walker
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2016 11:40 AM CST
John Walker, not the inventor.   (ITV video screenshot)

(Newser) – Try as they might, the denizens of Stockton-on-Tees, England, just can't seem to pay homage to John Walker, a 19th-century resident of the town and inventor of "one of the most significant objects in modern history," per the the Northern Echo. Take, for instance, the bust of Walker that was unveiled with much fanfare in 1977. Turns out, the bust's visage is based on a portrait of a different John Walker (an actor who never set foot in Stockton), ITV News reports. Though the error was discovered in 1993 after the National Portrait Gallery weighed in, it resurfaced recently during a meeting when a city council member asked a city official why the statue is "hidden" away in a local shopping center. "I can reveal that the bust of John Walker was inaccurately produced. It is the bust of another John Walker," the official answered.

Walker—the right one—invented the friction match in 1826, accidentally discovering that a chemical-coated stick caught fire when dragged along his hearth, reports the BBC. The chemist never patented the invention, "perhaps hoping it would be used for the public good." Stockton has a long history of misguided attempts at honoring Walker: A brass plaque installed in 1893 misidentified Walker as the inventor of the Lucifer match—an imitation that came to market in 1829. A plastic match sculpture that went up in 2001 was subsequently removed because nobody liked it. But the Echo notes an accurate plaque does hang where Walker's pharmacy once stood, and city officials are trying to figure out where Walker's house was so they can install another plaque there. (Read more gaffe stories.)

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