In 1843 a partnership was formed between, two Quakers, Francis May and William Bryant, to establish a Provisions Merchants business in Tooley Street, London. In 1850 they started importing Swedish matches, produced by Carl and Johan Lündström. This partnership was successful, so Francis May and William Bryant decided to merge the partnership with Bryant's company, Bryant and James, which was based in Plymouth.
By 1853 Bryant and May were selling over 8 million boxes of matches per year and in 1861 The Company, Bryant and May, was founded with the specific aim of making only Safety Matches. They were influential in fighting against the dreadful disease known as Phossy jaw which was caused by white phosphorus used in the manufacture of the early matches. They started on a site in Bow, which had once been used for the manufacture of candles, crinoline and rope, but had fallen into disrepair. This site was gradually expanded as a model factory. The public were initially unwilling to buy the more expensive safety matches so they also had to make the traditional Lucifer Matches.