Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Tiny sprinklers that saved lives

They are amongst MOSI’s smallest collection items, but the delicate fire sprinkler heads now on display at the Museum of Science & Industry sparked their own revolution that saved lives and property throughout the world.

Manchester is most known for its role in the birth of the cotton industry, but the heat generated from the machinery combined with dry material and dust in the mills, led to frequent fires, with loss of life and factory buildings, which created an urgent need for an automatic fire system.

In the latenineteenth century Manchester- based engineering company Mather & Platt, a world-leader in textile machinery, spotted the gap in the market and launched a booming business in Automatic Sprinkler and Alarm Systems.

The company has  donated samples of these early fire sprinkler heads, which date from around 1885, and radically improved fire safety in the mills.

 In 1883 Sir William Mather purchased the rights to manufacture and distribute the Grinnell Sprinkler from Frederick Grinnell, a pioneering US engineer, incorporating a soldered link that breaks at a predetermined temperature. Water is then released over where the fire was detected.

The Grinnell Sprinkler was more efficient than earlier sprinkler heads, which did not have an accurate operating temperature and in some cases did not efficiently discharge water onto the fire.

 At its height in the 1960’s, Mather  employed some 6,000 people at its Newton Heath factory and throughout the World.

Eamonn O’Brien worked in Mather &Platt’s Fire Engineering Department for more than forty years.

 He recalls: “I was employed as a ‘machine setter’ in the sprinkler department, for a short time in the middle 1960’s. These specially-made machines were designed specifically for the manufacture of sprinkler bodies and component parts which make up the finished sprinkler.

Approximately 100 female workers were employed in this department to machine, assemble and test the numerous types of sprinkler heads being made at that time, producing tens of thousands per week.” Mather and Platt supplied textile mills throughout the world with this new revolutionary system, which continues to be the basis of fire protection methods today.

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