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    History

    Of

    Sprinkler

    Development

    In 1874 the world's first practical Automatic Sprinkler system

    was installed in the piano factory of Henry S Parmelee

    at

    New Haven Connecticut in the USA

    Parmelee was not the first to invent an automatic sprinkler system

    Despite the extensive development work that took place

    in the US between 1872 and 1918

    the early inventors of automatic fire extinguishing systems were British

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    1723

    The earliest reference to an automatic fire extinguishing device is to be found in Patent No.458 granted on 12th November 1723 to Ambrose Godfrey, a chemist who lived in Covent Garden, London

    The device consisted of a cask filled with water, chemical dry powder or a liquid of Godfrey's invention. Also in the cask was a tin box containing a gunpowder charge with a fuse extending outside the cask. The intrepid fire-fighter had to light the fuse, advance close enough to the fire to hurl the cask into it and then beat a hasty retreat before the gunpowder exploded. The subsequent blast and scattering of the liquid or powder were intended to extinguish it

    Godfrey went to great lengths to promote the device, even building two timber houses and giving fire extinguishing demonstrations in them to many interested people, including members of the Royal Society. Improbable as it may seem; the device appears to have been reasonably effective on at least one occasion. An article in Bradley's Weekly Messenger on 17th November 1729 refers to its efficiency in extinguishing a fire in London

    1763

    Patent No.796 was granted on 24th November 1763 to John Green, a watchmaker of St. Martins Court, London for an automatic fire alarm. This was not a fire extinguishing device but could be considered a forerunner of the modern fire alarm system. It consisted of a clock type mechanism that was set in motion by a falling weight released when a cord stretched across the ceiling was burnt through by fire. No records exist of it actually being used

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    1797

    A system that foreshadowed the present day fire hydrant and hose reel system installed by Sir Samuel Bentham, Inspector General of Naval Works in Buildings at Portsmouth Dockyard. The system consisted of a gravity water supply tank on the roof connected to a pipework system feeding hydrants throughout the building. A similar system was later installed in the London and South Western Railway Company's locomotive works at Nine Elms. The installation was still in position when the building was demolished during the Second World War

    1806

    A further development was recorded in 1806 when John Carey, a Doctor at Law who lived in Camden Street, London was granted Patent No.2963 for a number of devices to extinguish fires in various types of buildings

    The most interesting of these was an early version of the present day deluge system. It consisted of a water tank in the roof with pipes running to a number of lever operated valves positioned at ceiling level in the areas to be protected. Each valve was fitted with a large rose to spray water over the floor

    Under normal conditions the valves would be held closed by means of cords stretched across each room at ceiling level. In the event of fire flames would burn through the cord, releasing the elevated operating lever of the valve in that room, and allowing water to discharge onto the floor. It was also proposed that in some instances the outlet rose should be replaced with a leather hose for manual use

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    1809

    Colonel William Congreve, also the inventor of the military rocket, who lived in Cecil Street, Westminster, patented a refined sprinkler system, Patent No.3201. This system utilised wires and pulleys, in addition to strings or cords, the wires carried fusible links about the size of a half-crown consisting of two thin metal plates held by fusible metal comprised of bismuth, lead and tin in the proportions of eight, five and three respectively, with a melting point of 190134;pan>

    Also described in the patent document is a means of releasing the weights by the expansion of mercury

    Drawings illustrate sprinkler devices, including perforated false ceilings, perforated piping at high levels around rooms, and devices with extended and flattened apertures to spray out into the room from near the ceiling, in a similar manner to sidewall sprinklers. A wide coverage sprinkler device mounted in the centre of a room was similar in design to a present day lawn sprinkler. In large rooms, compartmentation was suggested, each with its own fuse link, valves and showers, thus the extent of the remedy shall be limited to the extent of the evil

    1812

    Carey's system does not appear to have been widely used, if at all, but a much improved system was installed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London in 1812. This later system was designed by William Congreve. The system was the subject of Patent No.3606 dated 30th December 1812. It was also described in some detail by the architect Benjamin Wyatt in a publication Observations on the design of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as executed in the year 1812

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    The system comprised an underground cylindrical reservoir containing 400 hogsheads (95 cubic metres) of water pressurised with air from an air pump to a pressure of six atmospheres (6 bar). Water was supplied to the reservoir by a 250mm underground cast iron main fed by the York Buildings Waterworks System in the Adelphi. From the reservoir a further 250mm main supplied water to the theatre building where it was distributed through a series of manually operated valves to small bore branch pipes perforated with three rows of 13mm diameter holes

    The valves controlling the system were manually operated and it was intended only to discharge water on to the affected area, not over the whole building. To ensure a standby water supply, agreement was reached with the Waterworks that upon receipt of an alarm signal they would start their 75hp steam engine driven pump to discharge water into the underground reservoir within twenty minutes

    This system was the first practical sprinkler system using a high pressure water supply to be installed in a commercial building. Congreve's Patent also shows a number of different types of nozzle including a short revolving perforated pipe and large roses

    1835

    The Factory Mutual was founded in the United States

    1852

    William MacBay of Woolwich was granted Patent No.505 for a fire extinguishing system for both buildings and ships that in some respects resembled the modern automatic sprinkler system

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    His invention comprised a pipe system with branches terminating in outlet nozzles sealed by caps of gutta percha, lead or fusible metal, in all areas to be protected. It was proposed to supply the system with water from either gravity tanks or from towns' mains. The fusible caps when melted by heat from a fire would allow water to flow through the nozzles

    It was also suggested that the system should be fitted with a plugged connection through an external wall to enable the fire brigade to pump water into the system. This appears to be the earliest reference to the present day Fire Brigade Breeching Connection used extensively in the US but which has not found favour in the UK owing to the risk of polluting towns' main supplies by connection to non-potable water sources. A further proposal in the MacBay patent was to use carbonic acid gas and steam as an extinguishing agent, but no details of this method were given and it does not appear to have been practically demonstrated

    Meanwhile in the US, the perforated pipe system had been introduced from the UK, the first recorded installation being in 1852 in a plant belonging to the proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Merrimac River at Lowell, Massachusetts. The early systems were installed to protect the roofs of the mill buildings only and were later extended to include the picker, carding and spinning rooms of the textile mills

    1855

    James Smith, a Liverpool Baker, was granted Patent No.2375 for a system employing gutta percha or fusible metal lines running through areas to be protected and attached to an alarm mechanism on a weight operated

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    valve controlling the water supply to a system of perforated pipes. It was proposed to plug the perforations with gutta percha that would melt in the event of a fire and release water only in the affected area

    This system was very similar to the earlier inventions of Carey 1806 and Congreve 1812, and it suffered from the same