Whilst Greek Mythology may credit Prometheus with stealing fire from the Gods to give to man, it was the Roman Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with inventing the first hand operated fire pump able to direct a stream of water towards a fire.
In the middle ages a hand held version nicknamed the Squirt’ began to be used to apply jets of water to fires. Working rather like a syringe, the nozzle end was dipped in water and a few pints of water was then sucked up into the chamber by pulling a plunger. The charged Squirts was then directed as the fire and the plunger pushed inwards to expel the water stream.
The Squirt was apparently used to combat the Great Fire of London in 1666 although given the extent of the cities subsequent devastation, it appears to have had little effect and today survives as a child's pool toy called the ’super soaker’
The first fire extinguisher of which there is any record was patented in England in 1723 by the celebrated chemist, Ambrose Godfrey.
It consisted of a cask of fire-extinguishing liquid containing a pewter chamber of gunpowder. This was connected with a system of fuses which were then ignited, exploding the gunpowder and scattering the solution. This device was probably used to a limited extent, as Bradley's Weekly Messenger for November 7th, 1729, refers to its efficiency in stopping a fire in London.
The first modern portable fire extinguisher was invented by Captain George William Manby in 1819 and comprised of a copper vessel holding 3 gallons of pearl ash (potassium carbonate) solution under compressed air pressure.
In 1912 Pyrene pioneered fire extinguishers for home use and the emerging automobile market with the carbon tetrachloride or CTC hand-pump extinguisher.
The CTC vaporised much like modern CO2 extinguishers, controlling the flames by a combination of air exclusion and chemical reaction. The only problem was that CTC vapour is highly toxic so using them could be more hazardous than the fire itself.
The late 19th century also saw the invention of the soda-acid extinguisher.
This extinguisher worked by breaking a vial of sulphuric acid suspended in a cylinder containing a solution of water and sodium bicarbonate. When mixed (usually by tipping the extinguisher upside down allowing the glass stopper to fall out), the Bicarbonate would neutralise the acid but the subsequent violent reaction expelled the solution under pressure through a tube and nozzle.
It was this principle that the Wormald brothers marketed their popular Brass & Copper soda-acid extinguisher, the Simplex.
In 1889 Joseph Dawson Wormald who had just arrived in Australia formed a partnership with Stanley Russel to manufacture and import fire appliances after developing and promoting a building sprinkler system, fire doors and a portable hand held fire extinguisher they called the Simplex.
By 1904, the Wormald Bros company were running two manufacturing plants in Sydney and Melbourne and began travelling the country promoting their fire-fighting products for buildings and factories.
Promotional literature of the time declares:
When an outbreak of fire occurs in a building the first impulse is to alarm the local fire brigade (if there is one) and then wait impatiently for its arrival. Frequently by that time the fire may have assumed such proportions that ere it is extinguished considerable damage has been done through fire and water, and too often indeed to property that cannot be replaced. Messrs. Wormald Bros., of Bond-street, Sydney, have a simple invention — the Simplex Fire Extinguisher — which should fill the great demand for cheap, reliable, and. simple protection against fire.
This is an early 1950s vintage Brass and Copper Simplex soda-acid extinguisher which still retains its original soda acid glass bottle and stopper under the removable brass screw cap
With a bit of elbow grease and some brasso polish, this beautiful industrial artefact would polish up a treat and would look simply stunning in a hall corner or up on a shelf.
Return to Designer Decorator MAIN PAGE
Return to Industrial Collectables MAIN PAGE