Fighting Fire Victorian Style
Before the invention of modern fire extinguishers, glass globe extinguishers known as 'Fire Grenades' were popular in workplaces and the home in the 19th and early 20th century. These grenades were small and often sold in multiples, and stored in wire frame holders which could be easily suspended near the entrances to rooms. The grenade was designed to be thrown into the centre base of the fire. The glass would shatter on impact, dispersing the liquid salt water or Sodium Bicarbonate solution, putting out the fire and saving the Victorian home or business from fire devastation.
This grenade, one of five in the collection is a Harden Star Fire grenade, and forms one of a pair in which they were usually stored. It was first patented in Chicago by H. D. Harden in 1871, and was sold in Britain by the Harden Star, Lewis and Sinclair Company of London. It is made from clear glass with a star shape and the name of the company embossed on a ridged surface. The decorative surface not only meant they looked good in the home, but were also supposed to make the glass more likely to shatter on impact. Harden Star became the most popular brand of all fire grenades and their use continued well into the 20th century.
Extravagant claims for the grenade's effectiveness were used in its advertising campaigns, which often included testimonials from customers who had successfully used the product to extinguish their fires. Their small size meant they could be used without requiring much strength, and once broken the contents of the grenade were meant to 'vaporize immediately into volumes of fire extinguishing gas' depriving the fire of oxygen which prevented further combustion. However the actual usefulness of the grenade is debatable. It would have taken more than one or a pair to extinguish a serious fire, and if it failed to break was pretty useless! Despite this it was still used and manufactured well into the 20th century after much more reliable fire extinguishers had been created.
The liquid inside the grenade was also potentially harmful. Some grenades were simply filled with salt solution, allowing them to be advertised as 'non-freezing', but later grenades were filled with Carbon Tetrachloride which was more efficient at extinguishing the flames. Unfortunately, this chemical is also highly toxic, and can enter the human body through the skin and inhalation, causing damage to the lungs, kidneys and liver.
So perhaps not such a life saving device after all!