The earliest fire extinguishers were buckets. In New York City, for example, it was mandatory for homes to have a bucket hung near the exit. Once an alarm was sounded, neighbors would then toss their buckets into the street to assist firemen. Often made of leather for durability, these buckets were sometimes personalized with their owner’s name and address to help with identification following a fire. During the 1840s, rubber began to replace leather as improvements in vulcanization made them sturdier. In public buildings, metal buckets were more common, with rounded or pointed bottoms designed to increase their water capacity. Among firefighting collectors, original leather buckets with no signs of dry rot are the most desirable.

The first patent for a glass fire grenade was granted in 1863 to Alanson Crane, and the use of these extinguishers quickly spread throughout public and private buildings alike. Typically, these glass bottles were filled with a tetrachloride or salt mixture that would explode when thrown into a fire, ostensibly to quench the flames. Bottle shapes and colors varied widely, ranging from a half-pint to two-quart size, with pint and quart sizes being the most common. Most glass fire grenades were spherical, with a short bottle neck and a cement seal to prevent evaporation; they were wall-mounted using simple wire loops. Experts still debate whether these fire grenades actually worked or simply gave building owners a false sense of security.

Since the fire-extinguishing abilities of these early products were somewhat unpredictable, companies touted other virtues of their extinguishers. A Hayward catalogue from the late 1800s describes its product as “a cheap, simple, and durable fire extinguisher that will not freeze, and can be used by man, woman, or child.” L.F. Stillman promised that its tin extinguishers could protect “homes, churches, schools, factories, hotels, theaters, automobiles, motor boats, street cars, lumber yards, freight and storage depots.”

One of the best-known glass-grenade producers was the Harden Hand Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, whose bottles feature an embossed star or diamond pattern on the outside. Among the rarest glass grenades is Harden’s nested system, made with three glass sections connected with wire in amber, clear, and cobalt colors. Other companies like Hayward, Barnum, and Babcock also designed popular glass fire grenades in a range of attractive colors and ornamented exteriors.

By the late 1800s, a new grenade style resembling a light bulb was developed, which hung on a spring-loaded bracket. A special heat-sensitive link would melt under high temperatures, releasing a spring-loaded metal arm to break the bottle and disperse its contents. Other glass bottle extinguishers made by companies like Dri Gas and Larkin were crafted to hold a dry chemical compound which would be shaken onto a fire. This type was frequently mounted in automobiles. Also popular in the early 20th century was a simple tin tube filled with a dry chemical mixture, like sodium bicarbonate, to spread directly onto flames.

Around the same time, a new method of fire extinguishing was invented that relied on a mixture of soda and acid to quench a fire. Extinguishers using this mixture contained a soda solution in their primary compartment and acid in a smaller glass vial. When upturned, the glass portion would break into the central chamber, allowing the substances to mix and causing a pressurized chemical reaction. These extinguishers were primarily made from riveted copper until around 1942, when brass containers became standard. Production of soda and acid extinguishers ceased after 1969.

The first extinguishing contraption using a single action pump was created by the Pyrene Manufacturing Co. in 1905. Pump extinguishers used carbon tetrachloride as a reactionary ...

Chemical experiments during World War I led to the manufacture of the first carbon dioxide extinguishers. Using a similar mechanism as the soda and acid designs, foaming carbon dioxide pumps were sold as early as 1917. While stored pressure mechanisms using water mixtures had been in use since the 1940s, the first dry chemical extinguisher using stored pressure was created in 1954. These devices used the newly developed Halon 1301, a chemical which suppressed flames by depleting oxygen.

When buying old fire extinguishers, collectors must be aware that many chemical combinations left in these devices are toxic and should only be handled by an expert.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive

Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive

This incredibly comprehensive archive of LAFD ephemera and memorabilia is as good a history of 19th and 20th centur… [read review or visit site]

Fire Hydrant Collections

Fire Hydrant Collections

Don't let your dog near this site... hundreds of photos of fire hydrant collections from over 60 individual collect… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Old Green Glass Fire Extinguisher Grenade Bottle Fire Fighting NrVintage Rare Green Star Harden Fire Extinguisher Antique Fire Extinguisher, Copper & Brass Polished High Gloss Perfect ConditionAntique 1917 Foamite Fire Extinguisher Engraved Copper & Brass Canister - UsaSupreme S/s 2015 Box Logo Fire Extinguisher Red Metal Neil Young Kanye MophieVintage ,brass General, Quick Aid, Fire Extinguisher, Model 85 Hd Copper Fire Extinguisher - ElkhartAutofyrstop Large"soup Can"glass Fire Grenade Autofyrstop Dr-16 Glass Fire GrenadeAutofyrstop Large "bottle" Glass Fire Grenade Autofyrstop Dc-16 Glass Fire GrenadeVintage Pyrene Essanay Soda & Acid Fire Extinguisher Copper & Brass EmptyAntique Copper/brass Red Star Fire Extinguisher Model 303/the General Detroit CoVintage At & Sf Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe, Railway Brass Fire ExtinguisherQuick Aid Carbontetrachloride Fire Extinguisher1980 Amerex Water Fire Extinguisher, Self Recharge, Excellent Cond, Works.Vintage Pyrene Fire Extinguisher With Original Bracket Newark New Jersey EmptyVintage Chrome Plated “junior Pyrene Fire Extinguisher As Used In Classic Cars. Antique Brass Fire Extinguisher Sos Defender Schwartz Empty - L@@kVintage Cannister Fire Extinguisher Printers Block Lot Antique Bucket Old Nr!The Bickle Fire Extinguisher, Bickle Seagrave Ltd. Ontario .tin Tube, UnusedFire Extinguisher 1920s Polished High Perfect Condition One Of A Kind Lamp Table Vintage "fyr Fyter Co " Copper & Brass Fire Extinguisher, Tall, Large 22"Pyrene Heavy Vehicle Extinguisher Fire Truck Vintage AntiqueGlass Fire Extinguisher1976 Bell System Water Fire Extinguisher, Self Recharge, Excellent Cond, Works.Beautiful Antique Fire Extinguisher Non-workingVintage Elkhart Brass Fire Nozzle 2" & 2 Hydrant Caps, 2" & Garden Hose 1 " 1972 Bell System Water Fire Extinguisher, Self Recharge, Excellent Cond, Works.Another Antique American Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher Compound Tube Unused 22" 1979 Bell System Water Fire Extinguisher, Self Recharge, Excellent Cond, Works.Vintage Firefighting 1940s Wooden Framed Sign For Co2 Wall Fire ExtinguisherHtf Nos Vintage Presto Chemical Co. Fire ExtinguisherVintage Nos Presto 7-1/2" Brass Fire Extinguisher Automobile Rat Rod Motorcycle1974 Amerex Water Fire Extinguisher, Self Recharge, Excellent Cond, Works.Fire Extinguisher 1920s Polished,custom One Of A Kind Lamp Table ! Fire Extinguisher Design Flame Lighter With Led FlashlightVintage Nib Presto 7-1/2" Brass Fire Extinguisher Automobile Rat Rod MotorcycleEmpty Fire Extinguisher Shaped Jet Flame Refillable Cigarette LighterVintage Wwii Civil Defense Fire Extinguisher Hand Pump *** Empty ***Badger Vintage Fire Extinguisher 2 1/2 Gallon Has Hose Etc Vintage Brass Pyrene Fire Extinguisher With Original Mounting BracketVintage Hero Pressurized Fire Extinguisher 16 Oz Can Full ( Very Good Cond )Supreme S/s 2015 Box Logo Fire Extinguisher Red Metal Neil Young Kanye MophieVintage, General,quick Aid, Fire Extinguisher, Model 85, Detroit, Mi.General Quick Aid Fire Gaurd Brass Pump Fire Extinguisher W/ Wall Attatchment "hero" Fire Extinguisher....Vintage Fire Extinguisher Stop Fire Motorcyle Truck Jeep Brass MiniVintage Ww Ii Us Air Force Fire Extinguisher Field Gear Equipment CollectiblesVintage Brass Stop Fire Miniature Fire Extinguisher Inoperable Original Lable