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Things I Didn’t Know

For something work related, I was looking up the color codes of the activation temperature for automatic sprinklers, and found this tidbit I didn’t know:

In 1812, British inventor Sir William Congreve patented a manual sprinkler system using perforated pipes along the ceiling. When someone noticed a fire, a valve outside the building could be opened to send water through the pipes.[3]

A large furniture factory had repeatedly burned down, and Hiram Stevens Maxim was consulted on how to prevent a recurrence. As a result, Maxim invented the first automatic fire sprinkler. It would douse the areas that were on fire, and it would report the fire to the fire station. Maxim was unable to sell the idea elsewhere, but when the patent expired the idea was used.[4][5]

Of course, Hiram Stevens Maxim is well known for another invention, which many of us are familiar with. A whole generation of unlucky Europeans, some Americans, Canadians and Australians, became unfortunately familiar with Maxim’s other invention as well, when they went over the top and were cut to pieces.

9 Responses to “Things I Didn’t Know”

  1. Rob says:

    Congreve is also well known for weapons development. We can thank him for “the rocket’s red glare” section of our national anthem.

    Interesting how two guys who were normally tasked with killing people and bringing down buildings were tapped to figure out a way to save them instead…

  2. Kevin says:

    Be aware that the activation temperature of the sprinkler head is NOT what the average temp at the head will be when the sprinkler starts spraying water. For an example, look at figure 5 & 6 of this report:
    http://www.fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/fire04/PDF/f04094.pdf

    Here the nominal 155 degree sprinkler head reached 250 degrees before water started spraying, by which time the actual protected enclosure was at 350 degrees, spiking to 560 degrees before the water started to effectively cool it.

  3. Countertop says:

    His son invented both the “silencer” and the car muffler.

  4. Ish says:

    Well, this adds an uncomfortable new element to the SuperSoaker…

  5. Hiram Percy Maxim, aside from inventing the firearms silencer, was also a noted early amateur radio operator. He founded the American Radio Relay League (sort of like the NRA for hams) in 1914. One of his callsigns, W1AW, is now used by the ARRL as the primary callsign of its HQ station.

  6. SJ says:

    Apparently, gun-smithery was not that far removed from normal mechanical inventiveness.

    At least, among the Maxim family.

    • Andy B. says:

      I have also noticed the high correlation between firearms and motorcycle manufacturing, both here and in England.

      • Ish says:

        Why, it is almost enough to make you think firearms were regular old mechanical devices, and not arcane artifacts of eldritch sorcery… Thankfully, our modern media has educated me on that front.

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