Fire Sprinklers: The Best Defense is an Early Defense

A fire sprinkler head with red liquid alcohol. (Image by Adrian Sampson via Wikimedia Commons)
A fire sprinkler head with red liquid alcohol. (Image by Adrian Sampson via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1874, the first automatic fire sprinkler head was patented.

Here are a few things you may not have known about sprinklers.

The first fire sprinkler in recorded history was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It was part of an automated kitchen he designed for a patron. The rest of the automation failed and a fire broke out. The sprinklers activated and washed away the food and part of the kitchen.

The first automated fire sprinkler was invented in 1723. It consisted of a tank of extinguishing liquid released by a gunpowder charge.

Henry Parmalee, who owned a piano factory in New Haven, Connecticut, is credited with inventing the first automatic sprinkler head. His invention came two years after the first automatic sprinkler system was invented. The first system used a system of perforated pipes. Parmalee’s sprinkler head was similar to technology in use today. It contained a plug made of a metal that would melt in the event of a fire and let water flow out.

SIx years after Parmalee’s invention, Frederick Grinnell invented the glass disc sprinkler, which is almost exactly the same as is used today.

Today’s sprinkler systems usually consist of a series of independent sprinkler heads. If you look closely at the sprinkler head, you’ll probably notice a small glass bulb containing a colored liquid. The glass bulb is blocking the flow of water and breaks when it reaches a certain temperature. Each sprinkler head activates only when necessary, allowing high water pressure to be maintained in the area of the fire. It also minimizes water damage to other parts of the building. In addition to containing the fire and focusing the water damage, sprinkler systems usually begin working to extinguish a fire less than five minutes after ignition. It takes much longer for a fire department to begin fighting a fire. Typical sprinklers also discharge much less water than a fire hose.

The color of the liquid inside the glass bulbs indicate what temperature the system should activate at. Orange activates at 135 degrees Fahrenheit, red at 155 degrees, followed by yellow, green, blue, purple and black, which breaks at 400 degrees.

Sprinkler systems have become commonplace in commercial and industrial buildings. Despite their high cost, they usually make financial sense because of insurance savings, and because protected buildings have more lenient building code regulations.

In 2011, California became the first state in the U.S. to require sprinkler systems in all new residential construction.

Our question, in buildings with appropriate fire sprinkler systems, what percentage of fires were controlled by the sprinkler system alone?


Today is Independence Day in the country of Chad, Flag Day in Pakistan and Mountain Day in Japan.

It’s National Raspberry Tart Day, Play in the Sand Day and Annual Medical Checkup Day.

It’s the birthday of author Alex Haley, who was born in 1921; Apple Computer inventor Steve Wozniak, who is 66; and professional wrestler Hulk Hogan who turns 63. It’s also my birthday — 39th if you’re wondering.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1984, the top song in the U.S. was “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr..

The No. 1 movie was also “Ghostbusters,” while the novel “… And Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What was the first Led Zeppelin album title that didn’t contain the name of the band?


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