Going Back in Time With Alarm Systems Technology

Since the beginning of time, man has had the instinct to protect the people he cares for and the property he owns. Early on, man first utilized human sentries to protect his family, home and livestock. This was shortly followed by the use of watchdogs as an early warning system, and it was then that the security industry had its beginning.

During the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks, both civilizations had found the keen alertness and noisy nature of geese a good early warning system for the protection of their fortresses from surprise enemy attack. The Greeks also devised an elaborate early warning communication system by using towers and water transfer methods to send information. The precise level of water would be meticulously translated to the letters of a message.

From the Romans and Greeks and throughout the aeons, the need for security products and services has evolved from mechanical devices, such as locks and trip wires, to the modern use of today’s electronic sensing technology.

First Alarm, Fire Detector Were Low-Tech, But Innovative

Some of the security industry’s early technological ingenuity was seen in products such as the unusual Ridgeway burglar alarm, patented in 1875 (See photo A in that issue. [All photos begin on page 36]). This early burglar alarm was trip-wire activated, and when triggered, would fire a pair of 22-gauge or 32-gauge cartridges, ring a bell and light a match.

Somewhere in my security past, I was told an interesting tale of what might have been the first mechanical local fire detector and alarm. This device was achieved by simply securing a ceramic plate to the ceiling or wall with specially formulated wax.

The design was such that a quickly developing fire would melt the wax and release the plate. The plate would then fall to the floor with a loud crash and warn everyone to evacuate.

Fire Decals Derived From Insurance Companies

For as long as there have been fire protection products, the alarm industry has always been driven by the insurance industry. Ever since the early American colonies, people have had an interest in keeping control over heavy losses as a result of a fire. Townships relied on fire brigades of men with ladders, buckets and primitive syringe-type water pumps to fight these fires.

The early insurance companies would mark a building or area with a metal emblem, commonly known as a fire mark. This provided extra incentive for fiercely competing fire brigades, which would be financially rewarded by the insurance company for saving an insured property.

It is believed that symbols such as the 1752 Benjamin Franklin “Contributionship” fire mark (photo B) were the security industry’s first decals.

Electric Technology Contributes to Invention Boom

In the second half of the 19th century, electric alarm technology exploded. In 1831, Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, and in 1837, Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the telegraph relay. As a result of this, Samuel Morse invented the Morse telegraph system that same year.

In 1852, Augustus Pope patented what he referred to as “The Improvement in Electromagnetic Alarms.” This invention was to be the foundation for Pope’s neighbor, Edwin Holmes, and his telegraph alarm system.

Holmes purchased Pope’s patent (#9802) in 1857 and began marketing the Holmes telegraph alarm (photo C). Although the alarm was called a telegraph device, Holmes’ first alarm was essentially a local battery-powered bell that would typically be placed on a fireplace mantle.

Holmes, being a shrewd businessman, went on to manufacture and market his own insulated wire, alarm controls and alarm contacts (photo D). His new designs, such as a foil-laced cabinet for safes, became very popular with the jewelry merchants and banks.

Upscale residential sales of the Holmes telegraph alarm improved considerably after Holmes started using a model home with an alarm demonstration kit. Until proven, his high-society prospects were skeptical of this electrical technology, which could indicate on a control in a third-floor bedroom that a window had been opened in the basement.

Holmes Helps Bell With 1st Telephone Exchange

Having built his first central station in 1857 in Boston (opening article photo), Holmes soon provided a needed service for another inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.

At the time, Bell was having difficulty proving the worth of his invention, the telephone, so he used Holmes’ central station and telegraph wire network to demonstrate the value of his invention to prospective investors.

Later, moving to New York, the Holmes Central Station became the country’s first telephone exchange. By 1877, he was leasing services to 700 telephone customers.

Boston Is the 1st City to Receive a Fire Signal

During the same year as Pope’s alarm invention, the city of Boston installed the first fully operational fire alarm telegraph system. It was initially configured with 40 miles of bare iron telegraph wire, 45 mechanical-coded telegraph alarm boxes, and 16 alarm bell towers located in seven fire districts.

Less than 24 hours after the system was initialized, the very first signal was reported to the city’s central fire office. Sadly, it was not delivered properly and could not be read correctly.

Another interesting event had to do with the design of a new fire alarm system technology that would automatically strike existing church bells with the reported fire alarm code. In some instances, this technology was resisted as it was seen as a threat to the separation of church and state.

Paper Flags, Time-Control Clocks Added to Alarms

During the early 1900s, alarm controls quickly became more sophisticated, with new features being added almost daily. For instance, the Jerome Redding & Co. local control (photo F) could annunciate alarm zones with small paper flags. The alarm zones could be manually shunted out at the base of the control.

Another example was a more elaborate control, the 1921 O.B. McClintock Bank Vault BA system (photo G), which was owned by Henry Ford.

Early alarm telegraph systems depended on the services of an accurate reporting device. So a punch register, such as the LM Ericsson unit (photo H), was used to receive signals generated by a remote alarm box equipped with a code wheel driven by a spring mechanism.

Operators were also required to supervise the system by doing a circuit test on the fire alarm box circuits at regular intervals. This practice was supported as it helped to keep the operators from falling asleep.

1917 Unit Is 1st UL-Listed Fire Alarm Control

One of the first electric fire detectors was designed in the early 1880s by Morris Martin (photo J). This particular detector was the first closed-circuit fire alarm device to be built. It consisted of one or two brass rings secured by specially formulated solder.

Some of these detectors had two sensors. In this case, both sensors were wired in parallel, and both had to drop before an alarm was reported. If only one brass ring dropped, it was considered a trouble call.

To complement these zone heat detectors, new multizone fire alarm panels, such as the Boston Automatic Fire Alarm Co. control panel (photo K), were introduced. Another early fire alarm panel was the Reichle fire alarm system (photo L).

This 1917 unit used galvanometers to indicate the status of alarm circuits, and was the first UL-Listed fire alarm control. John Sargent of ADT Security Services in San Francisco graciously donated this device to the National Alarm Museum.

Early Relays Were Handmade; Digital Dialer Makes Biggest Impact

Looking back, one of the most important elements that started the security industry was the invention of the relay. The relay is probably the one device that has changed the lea

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