Fire Extinguishers - A Brief History (Part 2)

By Hannah Cheshire

1866 – Francois Carlier

Frenchman Francois Carlier, invented a different version of Manby’s fire extinguisher – the soda-acid extinguisher. Instead of using compressed air, his version of the extinguisher contained two containers underneath a tank of water. One container held tartaric acid and the other a sodium bicarbonate solution which when pierced would mix together and react to produce carbon dioxide. The gas would bubble up and force the water out

1881 – Read and Campbell Limited

Read and Campbell was a British manufacturer focusing on firefighting equipment and was founded by two Scottish engineers who had been building bridges in Argentina. They invented the cartridge-operated fire extinguisher which they patented in the UK to cover the arrangement for piercing capsules to expel water my means of a carbon dioxide cartridge. At a later date due to the growth in motoring and petrol engines started selling a carbon tetrachloride model called the “Petrolex” marked towards the automotive industry. Another of their most popular fire extinguishers was called the “Waterloo”, a copper bodied extinguisher which did not cause any discolouration to the water, preventing staining to any tapestries and oil paintings. The “Waterloo” extinguisher was commonly used throughout WWII and were installed in the Royal palaces of England and many public buildings including the British Museum. Read and Campbell was acquired in 1964 by Chubb and Sons who until then focused on security.

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1904 – Aleksandr Loran

Aleksandr Loran was a Russian teacher and inventor who invented the chemical foam fire extinguisher in order to deal with oil based fires. The idea was similar to the soda-acid extinguisher in that it contained two different liquids (sodium bicarbonate in water and aluminium sulphate) which when mixed together created a chemical reaction. The difference is that instead of creating a gas in order to force water out the reaction created a foam which was then forced out by the building pressure inside the container.

1907 – Pyrene Manufacturing Company

In 1907 a Scottish engineer set up Pyrene in Delaware to sell pump extinguishers and then moved to the UK a few years later. They focused on and mass produced carbon tetrachloride extinguishers (CTC fire extinguishers) which were found to be very useful for both oil and electrical fires. They worked by propelling the CTC liquid at the fire through the use of a hand pump. The CTC would vaporize and produce a thick suffocating blanket over the flames, starving the fire of oxygen and preventing combustion. This type of fire extinguisher was popular in the automotive industry for the next 60 years until it was withdrawn due to the high toxicity of the ingredients which in confined spaces could have very serious health consequences. Just like Read and Campbell, by 1971 Pyrene had become part of Chubb and Sons, who since acquiring Read and Campbell had developed Chubb Fire Security Limited.

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1924 – Walter Kidde Company

Walter Kidde was born in New Jersey in 1877 who in 1917 moved from the construction industry into fire fighting and produced methods of detecting fires on board ships and ways to smoother the fires without damaging the cargo. In 1923 he sought a solution to improve the efficiency and function of fire extinguishers by purchasing the rights to a siphon device that allowed the quick release of carbon dioxide. In 1924 he then invented the first portable CO2 fire extinguisher which was made in response to a request from the Bell Telephone company who needed a solution to fires they were having in their telephone switchboards that were proving difficult to extinguish. They then moved on to partner with the Navy to design systems to protect airplane engines against fires.

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1928 – DuGas

DuGas Engneering, a manufacturer of handheld fire extinguishers, came out with a cartridge-operated dry chemical extinguisher, which used sodium bicarbonate specially treated with chemicals to render it free-flowing and moisture-resistant. It consisted of a copper cylinder with an internal CO2cartridge. The operator turned a wheel valve on top to puncture the cartridge and squeezed a lever on the valve at the end of the hose to discharge the chemical. In 1939 the company was purchased by Ansul.

Halon 1211 is the variant used in fire extinguishers and although discovered in the U.S these fire extinguishers were not commercially used until the 1970s but was used across Europe for many years prior. However, due to containing chlorine or bromine, Halons are both atmospheric ozone depleters and greenhouse gases. Following the Montreal Protocol of 1987, an international agreement that from January 1st 1994 banned the production and importation of Halon in the developed world, a ban on the use of Halon in fire extinguisher began to be implemented (in the UK this was implemented in 2003). If not covered by a listed exemption (mainly for use in an aircraft, military use, and in the channel tunnel) it may now be illegal to not only own a Halon fire extinguisher but also to dispose of them incorrectly.

1954 – DuPont and The U.S. Army

As a joint venture DuPont and the U.S. Army developed Halon, a chemical compound with many different versions. Halons are hydrocarbons with one or more hydrogen atoms replaced by atoms from the halogen series and were widely used in fire extinguishers for many years. Halon fire extinguishers contain a gas that stop the chemical reaction that occurs when fuels ignite and burn and were highly popular amongst companies working with computer equipment and high tech facilities because they could be used on any type of fire without damaging any high tech equipment. 


Although not an exhaustive timeline, as we can see, the modern version of the fire extinguisher has been in use since the mid 20th century with many different variants being invented along the way. Since their invention the fire suppressing substances used have been continuously updated to comply with safety practices but the technology still stands.


Hannah Cheshire | Head of Marketing

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