Author(s): Kathleen Robinson. Published on November 1, 2011.

Henry & Fredrick
The road to automatic fire sprinkler systems

NFPA Journal®, November/December 2011

On August 11, 1874, Henry S. Parmelee of New Haven, Connecticut, obtained U.S. Patent No. 154,076 for a sprinkler head to protect the Mathusek Piano Works, of which he was president. The device was a significant step forward in fire protection, and between 1878 and 1882 some 200,000 Parmelee sprinklers were installed in mills throughout New England.

Parmelee’s invention also led to the development of automatic fire sprinkler protection systems. In 1878, Frederick Grinnell, who was president of Providence Steam and Gas Company in Providence, Rhode Island, licensed Parmalee’s sprinkler head and began to manufacture it, paying royalties to the inventor. In 1881, Grinnell patented and began manufacturing an improved sprinkler head, part of the first practical automatic sprinkler system in the United States. Nine years later, he invented the glass disc sprinkler, eventually amassing 40 patents for improvements to his devices. He also invented a dry-pipe valve and an automatic fire alarm system.

In 1892, Grinnell established the General Fire Extinguisher Co. after merging with two other sprinkler makers, and the company became the foremost sprinkler manufacturer in the United States. Today, the Grinnell Fire Protection Co. is a part of Tyco International Ltd.

— Kathleen Robinson