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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.

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The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection – Part Two – The First Automatic Sprinklers

The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection
Part 2 – The First Automatic Sprinklers

Inventors first began experimenting with automatic sprinklers around 1860 when Barnabas Wood of Nashville, Tennessee patented the first basic sprinkler. It featured a fusible solder link and operated at 165°F, still a standard temperature rating to this day. And in England, a Major Stewart Harrison of the 1st Engineer London Volunteers, developed an automatic sprinkler that apparently was a good design at the time, But neither had any success.

Henry S. Parmelee of New Haven, Connecticut is considered the inventor of the first practical automatic sprinkler head and took out his first patent in 1874. It was his third sprinkler design, in 1875, that became the one first installed commercially. It consisted of a cap, held in place by solder, covering a perforated distributor. He continued to improve this design. In 1878 it was further modified with a rotating slotted distributor which was less prone to clogging by sediment. The final version of the Parmelee sprinkler was actually done by Frederick Grinnell. He changed the thread to a ½” male fitting, and hollowed the base to separate the solder joint from contact with the water in the pipes.

Frederick Grinnell, President of The Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company, entered in to an agreement with Henry Parmelee to manufacture his sprinklers on a royalty basis. Thousands of these sprinklers would be installed over the next few years. In 1882 he patented the automatic sprinkler that bears his name. This is considered to be the first sensitive automatic sprinkler. The Glass Disk Sprinkler came in 1890. It had a ½” orifice and a fixed deflector. It was modified in 1903 and manufactured for many years. It is probably the most common old Grinnell sprinkler to be found by collectors.

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