How Were Smoke Detectors Invented?

While the smoke detector is a relatively modern device, it was first invented over a century ago and took over eight decades to reach the market. Since their introduction to the public in 1975, smoke detectors have become an essential device in most homes and businesses, and have been credited with reducing lives lost to fires by 50 percent.

Early Smoke Detectors

In 1890, Francis Robbins Upton, a former associate of Thomas Edison, invented and patented the very first automatic fire alarm. In 1902, George Andrew Darby invented the first smoke detector in Birmingham, England. However, both models were incredibly basic.

In the late 1930s, Swiss physicist Walter Jaeger attempted to invent a sensor that detected poisonous gas. The invention failed to detect the gas, but did detect the smoke from his cigarette. However, due to the cost of manufacturing electrical equipment, these models did not make much of an impact.

The Rise of Smoke Alarms

In 1965, Duane D. Pearsall and Stanley B. Peterson invented an affordable beehive-shaped battery powered smoke alarm. These alarms could be easily installed and replaced if needed, and were made from a fire-resistant steel. When first produced, the units required a replaceable battery made by Gates Energy corporation; however, these special batteries were quickly replaced with disposable AA batteries.

In 1975, Pearsall’s company, Statitrol Corporation, began to mass produce their invention for public consumption, and was able to produce 500 units per day by 1977. In 1980, the invention was sold to Emerson Electric and was distributed to the public by Sear’s.

Modern Smoke Alarms

Today, there are many different types of smoke detectors available for homes and businesses. Many use audible signals to alert residence of smoke danger, while others use voice or strobe light effects. The most recent advances in the technology has been aimed at making smoke detectors able to differentiate between real threats of fire and smoke from cooking or other nuisance sources.

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