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The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection Part 4 – Frederick Grinnell

The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection
Part 4 – Frederick Grinnell


Frederick Grinnell was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1855, he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Earlier in his career, he was draftsman, construction engineer, and manager for various railroad manufacturers. He designed and oversaw construction of more than 100 locomotives.

Frederick Grinnell’s career in fire protection began at the age of 33 with his purchase of the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company. In the early days the company started in fire protection installing perforated piping systems, one of the first to do so. Grinnell took out a large number of patents. Under him the company became the leading fire protection company in the country. Many of the installation rules can be traced back to this company.

Later, about 1875, Henry Parmelee’s sprinkler company contracted with the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company to install their systems. In 1878 Grinnell made an agreement to manufacture the Parmelee sprinklers. Parmelee’s final design was modified by Grinnell by hollowing out the base so that much less of the solder joint was in contact with the water in the piping. In 1882 he invented his first practical sprinkler, a radical departure from others of the time, considered to be the first sensitive sprinkler. This was probably the first sprinkler to use a deflector as we know it. This became the standard fire sprinkler and was used extensively. Grinnell continued to research and develop, and in 1890 came out with a new design, the glass disk sprinkler. The glass disk helped to avoid corrosion and sticking. The new sprinkler also had a fixed deflector as opposed to the moving deflector on his previous head which could get dirty and fail to function. In 1896 annealed glass was used as earlier versions cracked and this sprinkler head was used for many years.

In 1883 Sir William Mather, during a visit to the Brown University at Providence, met Mr Fredrick Grinnell and was impressed so much so that he obtained sole rights outside the USA to manufacture Grinnell’s automatic sprinkler

In 1895 Frederick Grinnell met in Boston with other great men of the fire protection and insurance industries. From this meeting the seeds of the National Fire Protection Association were sown.

In 1892 the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company was merged with the Neracher and Hill Sprinkler Company of Warren, Ohio and the Automatic Fire Alarm and Extinguisher Company of New York, under the name of the General Fire Extinguisher Company. The name was retained until 1944, when it was changed to Grinnell Corporation.

Frederick Grinnell died in 1905, at the age of 69, but the company continued to grow and evolve. In 1969, ITT acquired the Grinnell Company. The acquisition of Grinnell by ITT was followed by the divestiture of Grinnell Fire Protection by ITT and was purchased by Tyco Laboratories in 1976 ITT retained the manufacturing and sales divisions – laying the groundwork for Grinnell Supply Sales as a separate entity Tyco acquired Grinnell Supply Sales and Manufacturing in 1988. In 2001, Grinnell Fire Protection was merged with the Simplex Time Recorder Company to form SimplexGrinnell

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