In 1907, a Scottish engineer found himself knocking on financiers doors seeking development funding for a portable, hand-held fire extinguisher.
Failing to find a sympathetic ear he was forced to take his invention to the US where he established what was to later become known as the Pyrene Company of Delaware in 1909.
Five years later a American businessman, Wallace B. Phillips, took out UK patents for extinguisher and founded the Pyrene Company Limited in 1914. where a small range of hand pump extinguishers were sold for domestic and transportation use.
In 1910, The Pyrene Manufacturing Company of Delaware filed a patent to use carbon tetrachloride to extinguish fires. The liquid vaporised and extinguished the flames by inhibiting the chemical chain reaction of the combustion process (it was an early 20th-century presupposition that the fire suppression ability of carbon tetrachloride relied on oxygen removal.) In 1911, they patented a small, portable extinguisher that used the chemical. This consisted of a brass bottle with an integrated hand pump that was used to expel a jet of liquid toward the fire.
After Electric Lighting Act of 1882 allowed for the establishment up of supply systems by 'persons, companies or local authorities’, the roll out of a stable domestic electricity supply to households across Britain gathered momentum but it was not until after the First World War that electricity made its way into homes on a much larger scale. While the introduction of the Electricity (Supply) Act in 1926, saw the establishment of the national grid, electricity was still viewed somewhat warily by generations used to gas or oil lighting.
Home safety became a key concern and saw the establishment of a number of Fire Extinguisher manufactures catering to the domestic market. The largest of these was the Pyrene Company….
Paralleling the popular development of the automobile and aviation industries of the period, Pyrene established their own manufacturing plant in Grosvenor Gardens London moving later to larger premises in Stoke Newton in 1920 with the aim of securing large government contracts for their growing range of soda-acid and foam fire extinguishers.
Their biggest break came when the London General Omnibus Company (later to become London Transport) awarded Pyrene the contract for its fire extinguishers in 1924. At the time Pyrene had been outsourcing their firefighting chemicals to the Brent International Chemical Company but as demand soared, they developed their own chemical division, moving again to a new Art Deco style factory at Brentwood in 1930 where they pioneered the concept of large fire fighting demonstrations at their demonstration grounds next door.
The large scale demonstrations proved a great success and Pyrene were soon supplying fire fighting systems to the transportation industry including a wide range of commercial shipping culminating in a contract to outfit the largest and most luxurious ocean liner of the period, the Queen Mary with a pyrene firefighting system in 1933.
During the 30’s, Pyrene continued marketing their home fire extinguisher range but always knew their future lay in the commercial field and continued to position themselves as the leading supplier of fire fighting solutions to industry and transportation, in particular - the rapidly emerging aviation industry.
Pitching their fire fighting systems to the British Air Ministry leading up to the declaration of war with Germany, Pyrene secured contracts for both airfield and hanger fire fighting systems as well as the contract to outfit the RAF’s new generation of light and heavy bombers such as the Vickers Wellington and Avro Lancaster.
Safe for electrical and fuel fires, Pyrene’s small compact shape and high velocity spray made it an ideal portable extinguisher for the RAF, with its carbon tetrachloride mix vaporising and extinguishing the flames by interfering with the chemical reaction. As a result, Pyrene brass, hand-pump extinguishers were mounted on bulkhead walls at key points throughout the aircraft
The US Army also made use of Pyrene’s compact and versatile extinguishers, installing them throughout their WWII Willey jeeps and truck transports.
After WWII, Pyrene continued to expand their fire fighter services, especially in the area of remote and automated fire suppression.
During 1955 Pyrene introduced the ED-HOL system in ships, which recycled the ship's own inert exhaust gases to fight fires in the hold.
In the years that followed, Pyrene fire fighting systems were installed in some of the world's largest passenger liners including the Queen Elizabeth, Oriana and Empress of Britain. Other important contracts undertaken by the company during the late 1950s included a smoke detection system at the BBC TV Lime Grove Studios in London, smoke detectors for the Bristol Britannia aircraft, CO2 fire-fighting systems for British Rail, and supplying fire detection and CO2 systems for Lloyd's of London.
Pyrene’s growth continued up until 1971 when the Company evolved into the Fire Fighting company we know today as Chubb Fire Fighting Systems.
With a production date of 1960 and its original service tag still attached, this is a fully working Pyrene hand extinguisher developed for the auto and domestic use. It's a stunning and rare piece of industrial design and would make a wonderful gift for any collector or anyone looking for a unique vintage artefact for home or vehicle display.
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