Fire alarms are a crucial part of modern fire safety. Over time, they have evolved, becoming smaller, more affordable, flexible and easier to install. Here’s a simple breakdown of the history of fire alarms and how they have developed.

The Earliest Fire Alarms

Alerting people during a fire emergency has always been necessary, though the technology to do so has only significantly advanced in the last two hundred years.

Initially, community members would be responsible for monitoring an area and would alert others in the event of a fire by ringing church bells or blowing a whistle. A wooden rattle was developed in Australia in the 1850s to sound when a fire was detected. However, the increasing size of settlements overgrew the relatively quiet signal, resulting in the need for an alternative alert system.

Moses Farmer And Dr William F. Channing

This alternative alert system came about in 1852. Moses Farmer And Dr William F. Channing invented the first fire alarm system that resembled our modern solutions in Boston. It was composed of boxes that sent telegraph signals to a central alarm station. Upon discovering a fire, a person cranked the alarm box handle to transmit the box’s details to the alarm station. Then, the telegraph operator notified the fire brigade.

This model was scaled-up to a city-wide alarm system. Each alarm box had a specific telegraph signal that operators at the central alarm station used to pinpoint the location of the fire for the fire brigade.

However, the system required a person to detect a fire and sound the alarm. If no one was there or able to do this, the fire would burn without a response. The later invention of the smoke detector meant this process could be automated. 

The History Of Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are an essential component of contemporary fire alarm systems as they identify the presence of smoke from a fire. In the modern world they are small, affordable items which can be easily installed in multiple locations. However, they were only invented in the 1930s and only became available to households in the 1960s.

Heat Detectors 

Heat detectors were invented before their smoke counterparts. The first ever patent for an electric fire alarm was awarded to an associate of Thomas Edison, named Francis Robbins Upton. It was effectively a heat detector. When this device detected a heat rise, it triggered a hammer to hit a bell and alert people of a fire.

In 1902, George Andrew Darby patented his own heat and smoke detector in Birmingham, UK. Similarly to Upton’s design, this invention closed the circuit on an electric bell when it detected a temperature rise.

Walter Jaeger

Despite these early developments, it took over thirty years for the next advancement in fire detection technology. Swiss physicist Walter Jaeger invented the first smoke detector in the late 1930s whilst trying to design a poison gas sensor. This sensor would alter electrical currents when it identified toxins. Frustrated with the failing machine, Jaeger lit a cigarette. He then noticed a drop in electrical current on his meter, caused by the smoke from his cigarette. He repurposed the device as a smoke detector.

Dr Ernst Meili

In the same decade, another detector was developed. Swiss physicist Dr Ernst Meili developed a device for detecting toxic gases in mines using an ionisation chamber. He added a cold-cathode tube to amplify the device’s signals so it could trigger an alarm. This instrument became the first ionisation smoke detector.

However, it was large and expensive to produce so they were initially only used in commercial and industrial settings. 

Stanley Bennett Peterson and Duane D. Pearsall

Stanley Bennett Peterson and Duane D. Pearsall invented the first household smoke detector in 1965. It was smaller than previous iterations and utilised a replaceable battery, making it an affordable option.

This new device was revolutionary as it could be installed in most homes. In the mid-1970s, the cold-cathode tubes were replaced with solid-state electronics that further reduced the cost and size of detectors. By the 1980s, legislation began mandating the installation of smoke detectors in homes.

Modern Fire Alarms: The Rise of Wireless

Our twenty-first-century fire alarms combine many elements of previous devices. The wireless alarm systems found in most commercial buildings work similarly to Farmer and Channing’s telegraph boxes as they send signals between different devices to alert people of fire. Wireless alarm systems are now automated with smoke and heat detectors, removing the need for a person to trigger the alarm. This development has drastically decreased response times, saving lives. 

Evacuator Wireless Fire Alarms

Modern fire alarm systems provide the most efficient fire safety possible. With Evacuator Alarms, these devices are available for you to implement and keep people safe.

Reach out to our team of specialists who can advise on fire alarm systems and install them on your site. We also offer a trade-in service for you to bring your old devices and exchange them for new Evacuator Alarms. For more information, contact us today.