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The earliest fire extinguishers were bucket chains leading from a well or water source to the site of a blaze. The first recorded water pump was conceived of around 200 B.C. by Ctesibius of Alexandria, “the father of pneumatics.” That technology was revisited during the Middle Ages when handheld squirts resembling bicycle pumps could deliver about one liter of water at a time.

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to create a “super oven” for his kitchen so that he could cater for an upcoming house party. Da Vinci outfitted the entire kitchen with a system of conveyor belts that fed dishes into a superheated oven. It doesn’t take the brightest mind of the Renaissance to see how this could go wrong, so da Vinci also installed a sprinkler system in case of a fire.

On the night of the party, the Duke of Milan had invited dozens of guests to see the mad artist at work. When the food took longer than expected, da Vinci sped up the conveyor belts to cook the dishes faster. The kitchen staff was unable to keep up with the flow, and a small fire broke out in the kitchen — triggering da Vinci’s experimental fire extinguishers and washing out all the food in the process. The party was a bust, but da Vinci had just proven the worth of the world’s first recorded sprinkler system.


Centuries after da Vinci’s oven experiment, English chemist Ambrose Godfrey refined the sprinkler system by patenting a system of wall-mounted fire extinguishers. In the event of a fire, fuses attached to the device would ignite and detonate a small chamber of gunpowder. The resulting explosion would spread water onto the fire.

British inventor George William Manby invented the first portable pressurized fire extinguisher sometime between 1810 and 1818. His “Extinction” could deploy up to three gallons of potassium carbonate onto a fire.

Soda-acid fire extinguishers, first developed in France in 1866, found their way to the United States in 1881 by way of Almon M. Granger. In case of a fire, users would break open a bottle of acid attached to the device and mix it into a larger container of sodium bicarbonate. Just like in a papier-mache volcano, the resulting chemical reaction would pressurize a stream of water that was directed through a hose.