History of Firesprinklers
A fireball broke out in an Italian kitchen in the 15th century as the food was being prepared for a spectacular dinner. Kitchen fires are nothing new. The aforementioned kitchen was innovative since it was semi-automated and equipped with a fire sprinkler system. Italian Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci was responsible for both “upgrades,” and his patron owned the kitchen. According to legend, Leonardo’s design generated so much water that the majority of the food and a portion of the kitchen were submerged in the flood.
Ambrose Godfrey, a German-born pharmacist and maker of phosphorus, invented and patented his type of fire sprinkler system in 1723, nearly two hundred years after Leonardo’s passing, utilising explosives to release a tank of fluid.
In a theatre in London’s Drury Lane, Sir William Congreve’s manually operated fire sprinkler system was installed in 1812. The apparatus, which included a watertight reservoir, distribution pipework, and several smaller, perforated pipes, was entirely dependent on someone operating a valve from outside the theatre. Congreve’s patented invention was a positive development because theatre candles frequently used at the time constituted a serious fire risk. Read our blog to learn more about who created the fire sprinkler system.
Work was also being done on the other side of the Atlantic. Perforated pipe systems of Congreve’s design were placed in several industrial buildings by the middle of the nineteenth century. These appliances weren’t automatic, just like Congreve’s. Many inventors working on the development of fire sprinklers saw automation as their “holy grail” by 1860, and Philip W. Pratt patented his automatic fire sprinkler system in 1872.
Pratt’s method had advanced by 1874 thanks to Henry S. Parmalee. Parmalee, who is credited with creating the first (practical) automated fire sprinkler head, enhanced Pratt’s design and dubbed his creation an “automatic fire extinguisher.” The sprinkler pipework’s holes were sealed with solder using Parmalee’s design, which depended on heat from a fire. Water may leak out as the solder melts, putting out the flames.
Only ten firms were using the “automatic fire extinguisher” in 1883, despite Parmalee’s best efforts to spread awareness of his technology throughout the business and the general public.
By 1882, Frederick Grinnell, who had been producing Parmalee’s system, had licenced a sprinkler invention that had been protected by a patent. He then made some adjustments and received his patent for the automatic “Grinnell Sprinkler” in his name. Grinnell’s invention was a huge hit, and Parmalee’s was eventually abandoned.
Grinnell kept refining his ideas, and in 1890 he created the glass disc sprinkler, which is being used today in a modified form. Sprinklers are sometimes called “le Grinnell” in France.
As the nineteenth century came to a close, developing fire sprinkler systems stoked inventors’ creativity as designs were consistently rethought and enhanced. These early fire safety protection pioneers laid the groundwork upon which later technologies would build.
Just after 3 pm on December 30th 1903, a fire started at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago. A senior officer from the Chicago Fire Department observed the theatre’s lack of fire safety measures, including the absence of fire sprinklers, during an unofficial “tour” just days before it opened. The “Iroquois,” which was advertised as being “Absolutely Fireproof,” did not live up to its advertising, as more than 600 people died in what was reportedly the deadliest fire in US history.
The “Iroquois” burnt in the same year that Frederick Grinnell upgraded his fire sprinkler system with an adjustable screw, soldered (three-piece) linkage, and a glass valve. Although the device might not appear complex by today’s standards, Grinnell was still developing new concepts.
The Grinnell Silica Bulb Sprinkler, also known as the Quartz Bulb Sprinkler, first addressed corrosion problems in 1922. By adjusting the volume of liquid contained in a glass bulb, it was possible to predict the temperature at which the bulb would burst (as heat from a fire caused the liquid to expand), opening a valve and causing water to flow from the sprinkler.
High-velocity water spray systems are advantageous in modern fire protection designs, yet they are not a new invention. The work of Mather and Platt Ltd. was improved upon in 1932, and the Mulsifyre System was launched in the UK.
Following Factory Mutual’s research and development, the Spray Sprinkler made its appearance in post-war America in 1953. The Spray Sprinkler design replaced the traditional Pattern Sprinkler as the industry standard.
Innovation is fueled by conflict, demand, and societal change. As the UK textile industry fell in the 1960s, owners thought of new applications for mills that were left idle and silent. The demand for storage space increased as rubber and foam plastic production increased, and the textile barons were ready to meet this demand. It became obvious that conventional fire sprinkler systems would not be enough as mills experienced a change in use to warehouses. When huge bore fire sprinklers and better water supplies were developed, necessity drove innovation once more.
Fire sprinkler technology had advanced by the middle of the 1980s to include automation, high-velocity, and big-bore delivery systems. Large droplet sprinklers were introduced as the focus of development shifted to droplet size.
To increase fire safety, designers are now taking into account every aspect of sprinkler technology. Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers were first deployed in 1989. The development of ESFR systems from large droplet sprinkler research offered a remedy for high-hazard storage risks.
Fire sprinkler systems are no longer exclusive to businesses or public spaces; they can now be found in newly constructed private homes and are simple to retrofit into those that already exist. The concealed fire sprinkler heads of 2017 are highly efficient yet discrete, taking advantage of all that has come before with little visual influence on the places they protect.
Regulatory authorities set strict criteria for the design, installation, and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems since research and development are ongoing. The fire sprinkler sector is forward-looking and works hard to encourage member interaction and information sharing.
Private individuals who were original thinkers and had the resources, skills, and willpower to see their ideas through to completion took the lion’s share of the early steps in the history of fire sprinklers. Each contributed to the development of what is now a respected field of study and a global industry, whether they were motivated by a desire for patent and profit or by curiosity and scientific endeavour.
Maybe today’s decision-makers will have more foresight than the fire sprinkler inventors of old and new as fire sprinklers and their absence continue to make headlines.