The Fire Extinguisher: A Brief History

Who invented the fire extinguisher? When was the first fire extinguisher invented? And how has the fire extinguisher evolved over the years?

The fire extinguisher has a long history and dates back further than you might expect. Here’s a quick look at the history of the fire extinguisher and its evolution over the past several centuries.

Early beginnings

The first recorded fire extinguisher was patented in England in 1723 by Ambrose Godfrey. Godfrey was a chemist and developed a cash of liquid designed to extinguish fires which contained a pewter chamber of gunpowder. A system of fuses would light up, exploding the gunpowder and scattering the solution around the fire.

It was reasonably effective for the time period, and many other variants of the extinguisher were created after its initial success; however, not until the 1800s did the first versions of a modern extinguisher begin to spread.

In 1818, British Captain George William Manby developed the first modern fire extinguisher: a copper container with several gallons of a pearl ash (potassium carbonate) solution in compressed air.

In 1881, American Almon M. Granger patented a soda-acid version of a fire extinguisher, which used a reaction between sulfuric acid and a sodium bicarbonate solution to shoot pressurized water onto a fire.

In the cylinder, there was a vial containing that acid, and it could either be broken by a plunger in the system, or it could have its contents released by a lead stopple, depending on the version of the extinguisher used. When the acid and bicarbonate solution mixed, it would result in the expulsion of carbon dioxide that pressurized the water and sent it through a short length of hose or a nozzle.

20th century adjustments

Throughout the 20th century, the fire extinguisher continued to see upgrades. In 1910, the Pyrene Manufacturing Company in Delaware filed patents for an extinguisher using carbon tetrachloride (CTC) as its primary extinguishing agent. CTC would vaporize and extinguish the flames with a dense blanket of fumes that shut out oxygen and smothered the fire.

The carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguisher was invented in 1924 by Walter Kidde & Company after The Bell Telephone Company requested an extinguisher that would be electrically non-conductive. The extinguisher featured a tall, metal cylinder containing about 7.5 lb of CO2 with a hose and nozzle and a wheel valve. CO2 remains popular today as an ozone-friendly agent for extinguishing fires, and it is very useful for extinguishing a person who is on fire.

The inner mechanisms of today’s fire extinguishers haven’t changed much for decades, but the extinguishing agents continue to evolve. Today one can find extinguishers for every type of fire and extinguishers that come in various designs and colors. An extinguisher meant for an electrical fire will have different extinguishing agents than an extinguisher meant for a grease fire, for example.

Interested in learning more about how fire extinguishers have evolved over the years? Get in touch with the team at AAA Fire Protection Resources, Inc. with any questions you have.

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