"of, pertaining to, or resembling in any way Prometheus," 1580s, from Prometheus (q.v.) + -an. Before the introduction of modern matches (see lucifer), promethean was the name given (1830) to small glass tubes full of sulphuric acid, surrounded by an inflammable mixture, which ignited when pressed and afforded a ready light. Related: Prometheans.
Prometheans are small glass bulbs, filled with concentrated sulphuric acid, and hermetically sealed, and surrounded with a mixture of inflammable materials, amongst which the chlorate of potash forms one ; and the whole being again inclosed or surrounded with paper, also rendered still more inflammable by means of resinous matters. Upon pinching the end containing the glass bulb, between the jaws of a pair of pliers, the bulb breaks, and the sulphuric acid instantly kindles the surrounding materials. ["Arcana of Science and Art," London, 1830]
updated on December 13, 2020