Sprinkler 101



Fire Sprinkler 101 - a brief history

Henry S. Parmelee of New Haven, CT created and installed the first closed head fire sprinkler in 1874 to protect The Mathusek Piano Works. At the time he was the president of piano company. Parmelee invented the closed head sprinkler in response to exorbitantly high insurance rates. Parmelee patented his idea and had great success with it in the U.S. Parmelee called his invention the "automatic fire extinguisher". He then traveled to Europe to show people that there was finally a way to help stop a building fire before everything was destroyed.

His invention did not get as much attention as he had planned. Most people could not afford to install a sprinkler system. Once Parmelee realized this, he turned his efforts on educating the insurance companies about his system. He talked about how the sprinkler system would reduce the loss ratio, thus saving money for the insurance companies. He knew that he could never succeed in obtaining contracts from the business owners to install his system unless he could at the same time ensure for them a reasonable return in the shape of reduced premiums.

In this connection he was fortunate enough to enlist the sympathies of two men, who both had connections in the insurance industry. The first of these was Major Hesketh, who, in addition to being a cotton spinner in a large business in Bolton, was Chairman of the Bolton Cotton Trades Mutual Insurance Company. The Directors of this Company and more particularly its Secretary, the late Peter Kevan, took an interest in Parmelee’s early experiments, and eventually it was to Major Hesketh, its Chairman, that Parmelee owed his first order for the Sprinkler Installations which were installed in the Cotton Spinning Mills of John Stones & Company, at Astley Bridge, Bolton, to be followed soon afterwards by the Alexandra Mills belonging to Mr. John Butler of the same town.

Although he got a contract through his efforts, the Bolton Cotton Trades Mutual Insurance Company was not a very big company outside of its local area. Parmelee needed a wider influence. He found this influence in James North Lane, the Manager of the Mutual Fire Insurance Corporation of Manchester. This company was founded in 1870 by the Textile Manufacturers' Associations of Lancashire and Yorkshire as a protest against high insurance rates. They had a policy of encouraging risk management and more particularly the use of the most up-to-date and scientific apparatus for extinguishing fires. Even though he put tremendous effort and time into educating the masses on his sprinkler system, by 1883 only about 10 factories were protected by the Parmelee sprinkler.