Antecedents & the Evolution

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ANTECEDENT:
In the late 19th century, Francis Robbins Upton and Fernando Dibble invented the first automatic electric fire alarm. 2 The men received the U.S. patent (no. 436,961) on September 23, 1890. In the image above, you can see the drawing designs created by Upton & Dibble, under the name “The Portable Electric Fire Alarm.” In its original design, there are four major components to the first ever wireless fire alarm. There is the battery, the bell-dome thereon, the magnet in an open circuit, and a thermostatic device. Using simple terms to explain how this invention worked, the thermostatic device detects an abnormal amount of heat due to smoke or fire with the “thermostatic coil”. After the maximum temperature limit is detected, the battery creates a closed circuit with the magnet and attracts its armature, brining the bell hammer against the bell dome, alerting those present in the facilities that there is a smoke or a fire present in the room. In the patent of the portable electric fire alarm it states, “Our object is to produce an alarm complete in itself, simple in construction, without complicated circuits, and which shall not require constant attention.” 3

THE SMOKE DETECTOR:
While the original smoke detector was efficient, it was extremely expensive, and only large businesses and very wealthy individuals could afford them. Nowadays in the 21st century, smoke detectors are a standard essential piece of technology found in individuals’ homes and are only around $10. But how did smoke detectors evolve from such pricy items to a inexpensive necessity in homes all throughout the United States?

pictureof a pumpkinThanks to Duane D. Pearsall, he created the efficient and affordable smoke detectors that allowed all Americans to be safe in public and at home. 75 Years after the original smoke detector, Pearsall was able to create an affordable home version that did not have to be frequently replaced and only required a single a battery.4 Because Pearsall’s invention was easily installed and inexpensive, he was able to successfully mass produce his product in the 1960s in Lakewood, Colorado under the company Statitrol Corporation.5 Pearsall’s invention improving the smoke detector is accredited in saving 50,000 American lives within the past 30 years 6

EVOLUTION:
Today, the smoke detector is still widely used throughout the United States and around the world. However, because of the smoke detector, many new technologies have branched out, such as fire alarm systems and carbon monoxide detectors. While fire alarm systems are used to detect if there is a fire, the fire alarm system is a much more complex device that has multiple sensors in different areas of a building (or large room). In addition to its capability of detecting a fire, it has other functions, such as burglary detection.7 Although carbon monoxide detectors are not used to detect smoke, they are used to detect harmful gases in households and public areas that have incomplete combustion.8 Both items use a similar process to help protect individuals from deadly results, like the smoke detector.

In 2010, Time Magazine named the Smoke Detector as one of “The 100 Greatest and Influential Gadgets.” 9

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  1. Upton, Francis R., and Fernando J. Dibble. “Portable Electric Fire-Alarm (Patent No. 436,961).” United States Patent Office (September 23, 1890), under “Free Patents Online,” http://www.freepatentsonline.com/436961.pdf (accessed March 30, 2011).
  2. Pigeon Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Safety Tips, http://centerpigeonfire.org/firesafetytips-smokedetectors.htm (accessed March 30, 2011).
  3. Upton, Francis R., and Fernando J. Dibble. “Portable Electric Fire-Alarm (Patent No. 436,961).” United States Patent Office (September 23, 1890), under “Free Patents Online,” http://www.freepatentsonline.com/436961.pdf (accessed March 30, 2011).
  4. Ha, Peter. “All-Time 100 Gadgets.” TIME Magazine (October 25, 2010) under “Smoke Detector,” http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2023689_2026093_2023789,00.html (accessed March 30, 2011).
  5. “Duane Pearsall, Smoke-Detector Pioneer, Dies at 88.” Denver Business Journal (April 15, 2010) http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2010/04/12/daily54.html (accessed April 10, 2011).
  6. “Recipient Profiles.” Worcester Polytechnic Institute http://www.wpi.edu/offices/president/recipients.html (accessed April 11, 2011).
  7. “Fire Alarm Systems” FEMA: U.S. Fire Administration http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pyfff/alarmsys.html (accessed April 11, 2011).
  8. “Carbon Monoxide CO Detectors- Placement of Carbon Monoxide CO Detectors Important” http://www.homesafe.com/coalert/detect.htm (accessed March 30, 2011).
  9. Ha, Peter. “All-Time 100 Gadgets.” TIME Magazine (October 25, 2010) under “Smoke Detector,” http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2023689_2026093_2023789,00.html (accessed March 30, 2011).

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