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Thomas J. Martin invented ways to extinguish fires of all sizes

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Thomas J. Martin invented ways to extinguish fires of all sizes
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On March 26, 1872, Thomas J. Martin was granted a patent for his version of the fire extinguisher. Martin’s invention, listed in the U. S. Patent Office in Washington, DC under patent number 125,063, was an improvement upon an earlier model of the fire extinguisher.

Although British Captain George William Manby is credited with creating the modern style of the fire extinguisher in 1818, Martin’s improved version is often regarded as the first practical use of the machinery by some historians.

Thomas Jefferson Martin, was a merchant and lived on a farm near Harpersville, Alabama. He was born May 29, 1842, near his place of residence.

He was the son of John Martin and Sarah (Thweat) Martin, both natives of South Carolina, where they married and soon afterward, 1820, located in Shelby County, Alabama They reared a family of eleven children, five of whom were surviving in 1904. The father was a well-to-do farmer, a Democrat, and he and his wife belonged to the Baptist church.

Thomas J. Martin was reared to farm life and given a fair common school education. He took an honorable part in the Civil war. He enlisted as a private in Company I, of the Eighteenth Alabama infantry, however, after being wounded at the battle of Shiloh, he was incapacitated from further service. Once back home, he began a mercantile business in 1866 at Harpersville, which he continued with success until 1897.

During this time, he would invent a system in which water is pumped through pipes in buildings to individual sprinkler heads. The system could be activated by manually turning a valve in the building.

According to Reference, Marshall’s fire-extinguishing sprinkler system has been in use in the United States since 1874. It was commonly used in large factories as an effective means of putting out large and potentially catastrophic fires. Today, sprinkler systems are required by code in the United States in buildings more than 75 feet tall.

Below is a description of the invention from the awarded patent:

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.

The systems are generally commended for the relatively small amount of water damage they cause to property; they are much more effective than fire hoses at salvaging property. The activation of this kind of system can occur in as little as four seconds.

These systems can effectively control a fire before the fire department is able to arrive, resulting in much smaller and more manageable fires. In some systems, heat sensors determine which sprinklers activate, resulting in a much more exact delivery of water and in fewer instances of water damage overall. Systems generally spray water from nozzles mounted in the ceiling of buildings, but some discharge a combination of water and flame-retardant foam.

This type of technology can be activated in as little as four seconds. The devices can efficiently control a fire before the fire service arrives, resulting in flames that are significantly smaller and more controlled.

According to research compiled by BlackInventions.org, Martin’s fire extinguisher would wisely be attached to a reservoir of stored water and used to spray burning fires.

He married, March 3, 1868, Evaline Moore Kidd and they had five children together.

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