History of fire sprinklers and their development

History of fire sprinklers

Fire sprinklers have been around for over 200 years, but their development and evolution have been fascinating. From the early days of hand-operated systems to the advanced technology of today's automatic sprinklers, the history of fire sprinklers is a testament to human ingenuity and the drive to improve safety.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London - 1812


This may not be an automatic sprinkler system as we know it today. Still, it is the first record of a series of pipes fitted through a building with holes drilled at intervals which would allow the water to escape and fight the fire. Colonel William Congreve, who invented the systems, was granted a patent for this concept in 1812.


We would consider this type of system a deluge system today as the system used perforated pipes that were filled with water and connected to a reservoir. The system was divided into sections, each controlled with a valve. In the event of a fire, a valve could be opened to dowse water onto the fire below. 



Major A Stewart Harrison - 1864

British engineer, Major A Stewart Harrison of the FireEnineer Volunteers, invented the first modern fire sprinkler head in 1864. The sprinkler was a hollow perforated brass ball around 50 mm (2in) in diameter. A plunger running through the brass ball was held in place by a retaining string. Fire would burn through the string, and the plunger would drop out and release the seal. 



Henry S Parmelee - 1872


Henry Parmelee objected to the rising cost of fire insurance for his piano factory following two fires (Chicago, 1871 & Boston, 1872). After several failed prototypes, he produced a simple design in 1875, having a down-facing perforated shell with a cap fixed to the base with solder. When the solder melted, the water pressure pushed the cap off. 


Parmelle improved the design, and by 1878, this design had a rotating serrated wheel which distributed the water. Around 200,000 sprinklers were installed, mainly by Providence Stream & Gas Pipe Company. Frederick Grinnell operated the company.



Grinnell Sprinkler - 1882 to 1890


Grinnell introduced a new sprinkler head, significantly improving the Parmelee sprinkler he and his company 'Providence Stream & Gas Pipe Company' manufactured under license. Grinnell secured over 40 patents for enhanced sprinkler designs and, in 1890, invented the glass bulb sprinkler, which is still in use today.  

Grinnell Company (as it was later known) became one of the world's largest manufacturers of fire sprinkler systems.


Grinnell fire sprinkler head




By the 1890s, fire sprinkler systems became more widespread. They were installed in various buildings, including factories, warehouses, and hotels. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was founded in 1896 and began developing standards for fire sprinkler systems.



Present day

Today, fire sprinkler systems are installed in many buildings, including schools, hospitals, and high-rise buildings. They have been proven to be highly effective in preventing fires from spreading and saving lives. Modern sprinkler systems use advanced technology, such as monitoring and control systems, to ensure they are always ready to respond to a fire.







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