A Brief History
From 1852 to 1885, perforated pipe systems were used in textile mills throughout England as a means of fire protection. However, they were not automatic systems; they did not turn on by themselves. Inventors first began experimenting with automatic sprinklers around 1860. The first automatic sprinkler system was patented by Philip W. Pratt.
Henry S. Parmalee of New Haven, Connecticut is considered the inventor of the first practical automatic sprinkler head. Parmalee improved upon the Pratt patent and created a better sprinkler system. In 1874, he installed his fire sprinkler system into the piano factory that he owned.
Until the 1940s, sprinklers were installed almost exclusively for the protection of commercial buildings, whose owners were generally able to recoup their expenses with savings in insurance costs. Over the years, fire sprinklers have become mandatory safety equipment, and are required by building codes to be placed in hospitals, schools, hotels and other public buildings.
Sprinklers have been in use in the United States since 1874, and were used in factory applications where fires at the turn of the century were often catastrophic in terms of both human and property losses. In the US and Europe sprinklers are today required in all new high rise and underground buildings generally (75 ft) above or below fire department access, where the ability of firefighters to provide adequate hose streams to fires is limited. Sprinklers are also required in hazardous storage spaces by building codes, or may be required by insurance companies where liability due to potential property losses or business interruptions can be reduced by adequate automatic fire protection.