This Black man’s invention was the inspiration for the modern-day fire extinguisher

Stephen Nartey January 16, 2023
Man believed to be Thomas J. Martin/Photo via: The Black Wall Street Times

On March 26, 1872, Thomas Jefferson Martin received a patent for his version of the fire extinguisher. The U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C listed his work under patent number 125,063 for upgrading an earlier model of the fire extinguisher.

Captain George William Manby was the first to come out with a concept for the modern style of the fire extinguisher in 1818 but Martin is credited with inventing the first practical extinguisher which made use of the machinery.

Martin was born on May 29, 1842, to John Martin and Sarah Thweat Martin. His parents were indigenes of South Carolina where they married and relocated in 1820 to Shelby County, Alabama. They gave birth to 11 children; five survived in 1904.

Martin was a merchant who resided on a farm near Harpersville, Alabama, as reported by The Black Wall Street Times. His father was a well-to-do farmer and a Democrat, who fellowshipped with the Baptist church.

Martin spent his early years on the farm and had the requisite basic education. He enlisted and fought in the Civil War. He enlisted in a private company of the Eighteenth Alabama Infantry but he sustained gun wounds at the battle of Shiloh. He retired from the army after he was left incapacitated.

When he returned home, he ventured into a mercantile business in 1866 at Harpersville, which he executed with diligence until 1897. It was around this period that he invented a system in which water is pumped through pipes in buildings to individual sprinkler heads. The system could be operated manually by turning a valve in the building.

Martin’s fire extinguishing sprinkler system has been in operation in the U.S. since 1874. Large factories relied on it in fighting industrial fires. The sprinkler systems in modern times require a code in the U.S. to be fixed in buildings which are as high as 75 feet tall.

The sprinkler system is more effective than fire hoses and suitable for putting out a fire that has engulfed a property. This is because it can get water through the system in a matter of four seconds. The sprinkler system has the capacity to bring flames under control before the fire service responds to a distress call. This helps in bringing fires to manageable levels which should not pose any challenge to the fire service when they arrive at the disaster scene.

A description of Martin’s invention from the awarded patent says: The nature of invention relates to the construction, arrangement and combination of suitable pipes and valves for conducting water from suitable reservoirs to buildings by means of stationary engines, for the purpose of preventing or extinguishing fires in dwellings, mills, factories, towns and cities and may also be used for warning, ventilating and washing buildings and for washing pavements and sprinkling streets.

All in all, records indicate that Martin’s fire extinguisher was designed to be linked to a reservoir of stored water and used to sprinkle water onto blazing flames.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 16, 2023


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