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The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection Part 3 – Henry S Parmelee

The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection
Part 3 – Henry Pamelee

Henry S. Parmelee is credited with inventing the first practical automatic sprinkler. Objecting to the high insurance rates he determined there had be a way to protect his piano factory that would reduce the rates.

His first attempt was not practical as it used a cord holding a spring mechanism which, when burned would release the device. Upon showing the head to an acquaintance it was suggested to him that the device should operate by heat as well. His first patent was for a perforated head with a spring holding am internal valve shut and released by a fusible link. It was complicated and never known to have been used.

His second sprinkler was quite different, consiting of a perforated head and a valve held in place by a spring mechanism and fusible washer. This sprinkler was installed in his piano factory. His third attempt was extremely simple, consisting of a perforated distributor with a brass cap soldered over it. It was not very sensitive as the fusible joint was in contact with the water inside. His fourth sprinkler was similar but the distributor was a rotating slotted arrangement.

Henry Parmelee made arrangements with the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company to install his system of heads and pipes, Frederick Grinnell was the owner of the company and he made improvements to the sprinkler resulting in the fifth and final version of the sprinkler. He hollowed the base to separate the solder joint from direct contact with the water inside, and changed the pipe connect to a male ½” thread. Some 200,000 of Parmelee’s sprinklers were installed throughout New England.

Henry’s brother, George, was also involved in the business and traveled to England in 1881 to promote the Parmelee sprinkler there. He had some small successes, but only a few factories there installed sprinklers.

Henry Parmelee’s sprinklers were not necessarily the best. They were not very sensitive and prone to clogging, but they worked and Henry promoted them extensively. They set the stage for many of the advancements to come.

Next – Frederick Grinnell

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