About Antique Fire Extinguishers

Written by linda stamberger
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About Antique Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguisher (fire extinguisher image by Chris Roselli from Fotolia.com)

Fire extinguishers have undergone changes throughout the centuries. A fire extinguisher in the 18th century consisted of a chamber containing gunpowder and a cask holding flame-retardant liquid. Nineteenth-century fire extinguishers were made of glass and looked like a glass bomb, with a lit fuse that was hurled by the firefighters of that time or regular folk into flames. The brass or copper antique pump extinguishers made in the early 1920s are recognised as antiques because the earlier-model fire extinguishers from the 18th and 19th centuries didn't survive.

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The earliest-model antique fire extinguisher from the 1700s contained fire-retardant liquid and gunpowder, with a built-in fuse. The lit fuse would ignite the gunpowder, and the fire-retardant liquid would be released into the fire.

Time Frame

In 1818, British Captain George William Manby patented the first prototypical fire extinguisher. It was similar to the ones used today, with a compressed-air and potassium carbonate mixture placed in a copper cylinder. The potassium carbonate would be expelled from the compressed air through a pump, and applied to the bottom of the flames to douse them.


Manby's invention was expanded on in France around 1866 by utilising the combining of chemicals. The mix consisted of water, sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid to produce carbon dioxide.


In 1905, the first foam fire extinguisher was invented; it consisted of water, sodium bicarbonate and a foaming compound. There was a small aluminium sulphate chamber within the cylinder, and it was sealed until the fire extinguisher was positioned to be used. The seal would break, releasing the chemical mixture, which resulted in a carbon dioxide formation, producing thick brown foam.


In the early 1900s, a carbon tetrachloride extinguisher was manufactured by a company called Pyrene. It had a characteristic chrome or brass holding cylinder, with hand-pumping action atypical for this time period. Many houses or establishments simply burnt to the ground before the invention of the pump fire extinguisher in the early 1900s, which could more accurately extinguish flames before they got out of control.


One of the most famous fire extinguisher companies is Elkhart, which got its start in 1902. Elkhart invented the first ball-type shutoff nozzle in the 1920s, and the company advanced its line and design of fire extinguishers. The company is still in operation as of 2010.

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