History Of Fire Sprinkler Installation

When it comes to fire protection strategies, we tend to think of fire sprinkler installation as something relatively new. Well, not new as in smartphones, but new as in within the last half century.

This assumption is false, however. In fact, people have been using fire sprinkler systems for over one hundred years. Let’s take a look back at how fire sprinkler installation got its start and what has changed over the past century.

The Beginning

Fire Sprinkler TorontoIn the early to mid-1800’s, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and mills were popping up all over the place. With the appearance of mills came the occurrence of mill fires. Because the structures would catch fire quickly and burn fiercely, many a business owner lost their livelihood…and many people lost their lives. Business owners began looking for an effective way to combat these blazes.

In 1850, a rudimentary sprinkler-type system (made of a system of pipes with holes cut in it) was set up in Lowell, Massachusetts in the Suffolk Manufacturing Company. The system was installed in the picking room (where fires were prone to breaking out). Noting the effectiveness of this kind of system, the Providence Steam and Gas Company worked to perfect it. In 1850, it became the Grinnell Company, and it moved on to become the leading fire protection company in the area at that time. Engineers continued to tweak and perfect fire suppression systems, working with different spacings for the holes, as well as different materials to disperse the water. Something was needed to help disperse the water.

The First Sprinkler

The invention of the very first patented fire sprinkler head. Barnabas Wood, a man from Nashville, Tennessee, created this sprinkler head in 1860. He designed the sprinkler so that it would go off at temperatures of 73 ̊C (165 ̊F). This is a standard that is still used today for solder link sprinklers.

Sprinkler Installation Takes Off

Henry Parmelee (who patented the first automatic sprinkler) partnered with Frederick Grinnell (who had patented a sprinkler tube) in 1878 to start manufacturing fire sprinkler systems for use in commercial structures. Over the following three years, the pair sold thousands of the systems.

Insurance companies began to take notice of the effectiveness of fire sprinkler installations and started offering rate reductions for property owners who installed them. Specific requirements for sprinkler installation started appearing, standardizing installation throughout the industry.

Continued Improvements

Parmelee and Grinnell continued to work on their sprinkler systems, trying to make them more efficient and effective. In 1881, they patented a “sensitive” automatic sprinkler that could more easily detect fires and was less likely to clog up. They also expanded the orifice in the new sprinkler heads to half an inch, allowing better water flow.

Over the next half century, manufacturers continued to improve on sprinkler system and head design. By the mid-1900’s, standards for sprinkler installation had become the norm and fire departments were being educated on the installation and use of fire sprinkler systems.

The Last Half Century

Over the last fifty years, experts have recognized the need—not just for installation standards—but for legal requirements for fire sprinkler systems to be installed in all commercial and multi-family residential buildings. As these requirements have become the norm, countless fires have been quelled and numerous lives have been saved.

As time moves on, installation of fire sprinkler systems in private homes is becoming more and more common. Eventually, positive media coverage and education about the benefits of these systems will help them become the norm in homes everywhere.

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