Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Search challenge (10/24/12): What could go wrong? Fighting fires in the 19th century home

A mother in distress.  (Don't bother trying search-by-image. I've altered it to make it
evocative, but not useful in SBI...)
What could go wrong? 

Back in the day, fragile glass globes would be kept in the home to fight fires.  The instructions were, more-or-less, “in case of fire, throw this at the base of the flames…”   The globe would shatter, scattering a fluid that would chemically help to extinguish the flames. 

The globes came in red and blue (possibly other colors as well) and would be kept in places where fires might start—the kitchen, but also the living room (fireplace), and the bedroom (near candles and lanterns). 

But in retrospect, these fire-fighting devices were a really terrible idea.  They actually seem to have worked, but the fluid they contained was problematic for several reasons.

Now that you know a bit about 19th century fire-fighting devices, let me pose today’s challenge:

     1.  What were these  devices commonly called?

     2.  What problematic fluid were they often filled with?

     3.  Can you find the original patent for this device? 

And for extra credit, should you be inclined, can you find an advertisement from the day showing this device in use?   (Some of them are truly wonderful.)  

Search on! 


  1. 1) Search string: home fire-fighting glass shatter base of fire. Returned a wikipedia entry on "Glossary of firefighting equipment with the phrase "fire extinguishing fluid...shatter at base of fire", which was called a FIRE GRENADE.

    2) According to the wikipedia site (and others found after searching on the fluid name), filled with carbon-tetrachloride, which could cause liver & kidney damage, possibly cause cancer.

    3) Searched "Fire grenade patent", and the fifth result or so down was from Google Patents - "Hand-grenade fire-extinguisher" from 1883, number 297075.

    *BONUS* 1886 advertisement (did a google image search for "fire grenade advertisement", limited to large B&W images so I could see, and it would be old):

  2. Commonly called "fire bombs" or "fire grenades", they were filled with salt water or, more problematically, carbon tetrachloride, which the MSDS says is really bad for you.

    The original patent appears to be US#299318, "Manufacture of Glass Bottles and Vessels for Containing Fire-extinguishing compounds".

    Some advertisements: (toward the end)


    Started by searching for fire bomb glass ball. That didn't pan out, so thinking that these might be "treasures" or collectibles from your description, I searched for antique liquid filled glass balls. The first result was's article "Common Fire Safety Device in Old Homes a Health Hazard" (

    The patent was found searching for 'fire bomb patent' and the first result (US#3980139) referenced the original patent.

    For the advertisement, I used Google Image search for "fire grenade" or "fire bomb" with "Black and White" selected in the tools.

  3. Search: 19th century glass globes home to fight fires, leads to to determine devices were called Fire Grenades

    Search: fire grenades, leads to Wikipedia page for Fire Extinguisher which states the grenades were filled with carbon tetrachloride (CTC) and showed that "exposure to high concentrations damages the nervous system and internal organs. Additionally, when used on a fire, the heat can convert CTC to Phosgene gas,[7] formerly used as a chemical weapon."

    Search: fire grenade patent, leads to Google patent

    Search: advertisement fire grenade in Google images shows advertisements including the one the in the post

  4. 1. Fire grenade
    2. carbon tetrachloride (CTC)
    3. US Patent number: 117891.
    4. Harden “Star” Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher

    5 minutes search:
    [Fire Extinguisher history]
    [fire grenade inventor]



    3. and


  5. 1. grenades
    2. Carbon Tetrachloride

  6. I searched glass globe fire extinguisher and I believe they were called Glass Fire Grenades (I've seen one or two in my lifetime of antique collecting). They were filled with carbon tetrachloride...very nasty stuff indeed! The second image at I thought was a neat ad for one...mundane in images but still pretty vocal about what they did. The patent number is US001565036...didn't want to try a long link or post anything that might be copyrighted, but I did find it on the US Patent office's searchable archive.

  7. 1. Grenades, or Hand Grenade Fire Extinguishers
    2. Carbon Tetrachloride
    3. Patent #117,891 (
    4. (Extra Credit)

    I started with a search for, "fire globe home fire extinguisher" without any quotes. The first link was

    That gave me the answers to 1 & 2, but not necessarily a reputable site. Next I searched for, "fire grenades patent" (without the quotes). The first link was That led me to the patent number and also confirmed answers 1 & 2.

    Next I searched the US PTO,, by number and found an image of the actual patent.

    Lastly, I searched for "The Harden Star Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher advertisement" (without quotes) as it was listed as the most popular grenade. Tons of ads were found on eBay, Amazon, etc.

  8. Searched Google for "fire fight globe glass"
    First result led me to Victorian Style fire fighting :
    Devices were named Fire Grenades.
    According to the same page, the liquid was salt water, or Sodium Bicarbonate solution. Later grenades were filled with Carbon Tetrachloride, which is toxic by contact for humans.
    Also on the same page we can learn that the first patent was made in Chicago by H. D. Harden in 1871.

    It took me about 5 minutes (including the 4 needed to redact this answer ;)

  9. 1. I searched [fire globes nineteenth century] and followed the link to "Antique Fire Grenade Bottles" Searching [fire grenade bottles], I see the common name was: hand grenade fire extinguisher.
    2. In the previous article, it mentions carbon tetra-chloride.
    3. I had trouble finding the original patent. Searching Google Patents, I found multiple patents, but each seem to be patents for "improvements". 1880 was the earliest filing date I found:

    Best advertisement I found:

  10. Took me a good 15 minutes. Excellent quest!

  11. That was too easy.. first query "glass vial to extinguish fire" gets you result:
    1) grenades, fire grenades
    2) Carbon Tetrachloride
    3) Patented August 8, 1871
    Some images:

  12. The devices were known as fire grenades, often bottle shaped, and filled with fire retardant liquid.

    The dangerous fluid in these devices was carbon tetrachloride, which when vaporized in the air and inhaled can cause lung, liver, or kidney damage and might prove fatal.
    Less dangerous but perhaps also less effective were bottles filled with salt water.
    Because these grenades were meant to be destroyed in usage, a collector holding one that remains intact can possibly fetch $2000 from an antique dealer. Empty bottles probably fetch upwards from $75, and they are collected mostly for their intriguing shapes and alluring colors rather than for their fire-retarding capabilities.

    The first United States patent for a fire grenade was issued to Samuel B. Johnson on August 8, 1871. He received Patent #117,891 for an improvement in fire-extinguishers. The Harden “Star” Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher was the most popular brand of extinguisher. Source:

    A San Francisco company advertised these devices.
    The best compilation I found was at:
    This site also lists several links for collectors.
    WARNING: some of the links report malware alerts!

    The home page of the antique bottles site boasts a list of 4500 collectors and a map of various types of glass bottles.

  13. 1. Grenade, or fire grenade.

    2. Carbon tetrachloride

    3. Earliest I could find was filed in 1921 and issued in 1925 to Henry Tank of Alameda, CA.

  14. first i searched for" fire extinguisher 19th century intext:globe"
    first result indicated it was glass fire grenade at that time so i searched in google and browse for wikipedia result:"Another type of carbon-tetrachloride extinguisher was the Fire grenade. This consisted of a glass sphere filled with CTC, that was intended to be hurled at the base of a fire (early ones used salt-water, but CTC was more effective). Carbon tetrachloride was suitable for liquid and electrical fires and the extinguishers were fitted to motor vehicles. Carbon-tetrachloride extinguishers were withdrawn in the 1950s because of the chemical's toxicity–exposure to high concentrations damages the nervous system and internal organs. Additionally, when used on a fire, the heat can convert CTC to Phosgene gas,[7] formerly used as a chemical weapon."
    for patent i used left panel of google search page and go for patents too easily i found original patents with description.
    for advertisement i used :fire grenade advertisement 19th century in google image


    Here is the advertising image from Google images.

    These were called hand grenade fire extinguishers.
    The first patent was issued August 8, 1871, however, I could not find a copy of the original patent either in Google patents or on the U.S. Patent office website. I did locate patents for later improvements to the devise.
    They were often filled with carbon tetrachloride which is toxic and can lead to death. I even found a recent instance, where one was broken in an antique shop issuing lethal fumes and requiring a hazmat team to clear and clean the area.

    I found the basic information in about 5 minutes, but spent about an hour because the search was so interesting.

  16. Began with something like [19th century fire prevention home] and got this
    "Common Fire Safety Device in Old Homes a Health Hazard"

    1. What were these devices commonly called?

    Fire Grenades

    2. What problematic fluid were they often filled with?

    "The chemical of choice was carbon tetrachloride a.k.a. tetrachloromethane"

    The Wikipedia article on fire extinguishers gave me " Additionally, when used on a fire, the heat can convert CTC to Phosgene gas,[7] formerly used as a chemical weapon."

    3. Can you find the original patent for this device?

    Doing a patent search for [fire grenade] was interesting. I found this by Fowler that was filed in 1880 but wasn't issued a patent until 1886.

    And this one by Harden that was filed in 1883 and issued in 1884

  17. A fast one. Under 10 min.
    Searched for "19th century fire globe" didn't really work.
    Changed to "19th century fire extinguisher" got it:
    1 Fire Grenade
    2 carbon tetrachloride
    3 Patent number: 37610 Issue date: Feb 10, 1863 to ALANSON CRANE

  18. Good day, Dr. Russell and everybody.

    Searched[Fight fire home devices 19th century ]

    The late nineteenth century saw other innovations in fire fighting including the chemical fire extinguisher. The first was a glass fire extinguisher, the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher

    Searched[the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher]

    Searched: [the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher] in patents

    Searched [the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher patents]

    Searched [the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher 1871 patent]

    Searched [the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher advertisement ]


    1. What were these devices commonly called?
    R= Grenades

    2. What problematic fluid were they often filled with?
    R=As it turns out, many of them are filled with harmless salt water…but many others, typically the “later” mass produced variety are filled with Carbon Tetrachloride, a dangerous chemical that can potentially cause lung damage with just one exposure…liver and kidney damage…and even death.

    3. Can you find the original patent for this device?

    Later: John J. Harden. Patented Aug. 14,1883. Later: Henry D. Harden invented new and useful improvements

    Extra credit: 1886 Advertisement Harden Star Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher. In:

  19. 1. fire grenade
    2. carbon tetrchloride
    3. patent # 366,901 from 1887 (
    4. Image of a Harden brand fire grenade at

    About 3 minutes: Did a web search on 'glass globe fight fire history' and the 6th item was an explanatory page from the Hull Museums Collection, which got me to the answers for #1 and #2. A Google patent search on "fire grenade" got me to the 1887 patent immediately. An image search on "fire grenade" got me to an ad for Harden Fire Grenades.

  20. I started with an image search for [19th century glass globe fir fighting equipment] then used dragged and dropped the most likely image into search. This threw up firstly a wikipedia page, then a BBC "A History of the World" page that confirmed these are Fire Grenades which later on were filled with Carbon Tetrachloride, which is very harmful to the liver, lungs and kidneys and is absorbed through the skin.
    The earliest patent I can find is US patent 297075 issued 15 April 1884, but it is not clear to whom. There is a later one, US2066648, Issued 5 Jan 1937 to William L. Roessner that specifies Carbon Tetrachloride as the fire extinguishing liquid.

  21. You are referring to fire grenades. While many are filled with salt water, there are others filled with Carbon Tetrachloride, which requires HazMat handling.

    First I searched for "antique fire extinguisher globe" and Google suggested "fire grenade". From there I was able to find several sites aimed at Antique dealers warning about the Carbon Tetrachloride. A quick Google patent search indicates that the earliest patent is Patent 1510649, Filed on July 24, 1919.

    Extra Credit:

  22. What are the rules? I found the answer with a quick search. Do I post it here?

  23. 1. fire grenades

    2. carbon tetrachloride



  24. 1. fire grenades

    2. carbon tetrachloride



  25. 1. A "Fire Grenade."

    2. They used Carbon Tetrachloride, which caused nervous system damage.

    3. For laughs, here's one. Here's what I think is the original: Sorry for the massive url.

    Extra Credit: Not the best example, but the least skeezy website I could find on short notice. All the ads have a terrified lady or a grim man with their arm up like they're about to club a walrus.

  26. 1. The info I found called it the "Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher". Other variations included "Star" or "Blue" in the name.

    2. Carbon Tetrachloride. Problematic because at high temperatures it emitted toxic phosphene gas.

    3. This was a bit more difficult for me to find, but after a bit of searching it was first patented on 8/8/1871 under patent # 117,891. A quick search on the US Patent Office website led me to the patent

    For the search I used the key words "19th Century Glass fire fighting. The first hit led me to a "history of firefighting" page and a quick search of the word "glass" led me to a paragraph about the device.

    The most difficult part was finding the patent. The patent number took me only a minute to find with the search "Harden Star Hand Grenade patent number." But interestingly, the US Patent Office search defaults to 1976 to present, which threw me off for a bit.

  27. 1. Fire grenades
    2. Carbon tetrachloride
    3. No

  28. 1) Fire Grenades (
    2) Carbon Tetrachloride (caused respiratory problems when inhaled
    3) S. B. Johnson on August 8, 1871, patent 117,891.

    Photo of said same in use:

  29. 1. What were these devices commonly called?

    Glass fire grenades that were made by the Hayward Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher Company of New York

    2. What problematic fluid were they often filled with?

    carbon tetrachloride

    3. Can you find the original patent for this device?

    Patent number: 366901
    Issue date: Jul 19, 1887


  30. I cheated, as I remembered that CCl4 was used as a fire extinguisher. (Don't ask me, I have no idea where I learned this, probably elementary school during the 1960's and the vastly outdated books on the shelves.) So I had a hit within 5 seconds, on "carbon tetrachloride fire extinguisher", with #2 being the Wikipedia article mentioning the fire grenade. All else follows easily (including the production of phosgene, noted on the page - bad business, that). "fire grenade patent" had a hit for #297075, the Harden Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher", and "fire grenade advertisement" found an ad for "Hayward Fire Grenades".

  31. I first tried searching using [19th century fire-fighting devices].
    Not seeing much.

    I added [glass globe] to the above search. Now we have some good sites to look at.
    First one is:

    Ah Ha! It seems to be called a “fire bomb” or a “fire grenade”.
    Here is the important part. (from oldhouseweb)

    “The chemical of choice was carbon tetrachloride a.k.a. tetrachloromethane, which can be really unhealthy if inhaled, ingested or absorbed. Material data safety sheets also show it to be a probable carcinogen. Even worse, when this chemical is exposed to the heat of a fire, it can produce phosgene gas, a chemical weapon used in WWI.”

    So we have the answer to the first two questions.

    1. The devices were called fire bombs or more likely fire grenades.
    2. The problematic fluid was carbon tetrachloride a.k.a. tetrachloromethane.
    Nasty stuff to have in a fire! Other fire grenades had “contained such simple chemicals as saltwater~ bicarbonate of soda, and muriate of ammonia.” Also acids and alkali that form “fire extinguishing agents” as well as gunpowder.

    There is a nice page of pictures of some of fire grenades at

    From the same antique site:

    “A company named Barnum made fire grenades, including the Diamond brand. Diamond grenades were made in three and four-sided designs. These grenades are clear glass and have a patent date of 1869.”

    I tried to look for this in a patent search. I searched patents for [fire grenades] and tried to look for early ones. The first I found was by Silas H Van Hotjten, July 19, 1887. It is a fascinating device that uses a burnable string to cause the bottle of fire extinguishing agent to drop and the stopper comes out and the contents spill out on the fire below. And as a secondary feature it has a small glass bottle of gunpowder to be set afire by another burning string and that will shatter the bottle. That is one heck of a fire extinguisher.

    But the date on that patient is 1887 and the antique site says one was patented in 1869.
    Another great read of old style engineering is the patent of an Automatic Fire-Extinguisher by J. A House, May 26, 1885. It is a real Rube Goldberg device for breaking a Fire Grenade.

    So what was the first patient?
    The first I could find was “HAND-GRENADE FOR FIRE-EXTINGUISHERS” by JOHN JV HABDEN in Aug 14, 1883. His descriptions should be read; engineers and inventers wrote some purple prose back then. His device uses yet another type of chemical reaction. “… I place a quantity of alkali or other material, which, entering into chemical combination with sulphuric acid, or other acid capable of producing when combined therewith carbonic-acid or other fire extinguishing gas, . . .” Just what you want in a fire, acid and gas.

    They patented a lot of strange fire grenades and they make for a great read.

    I found another source (bottlepickers) that says “Alanson Crane was the first person to be granted a U. S. Patent in the 1870’s”. There is also an ad for a Harden Star Grenade Fire Extinguisher on this site.

    A big list of manufacturers of fire grenades is at the above site.

    So my final answer for the patent is Habden in 1883, but I think this is incorrect.
    An ad is on the bottlepickers page.
    I have spent too much time on this, but did take a break for the baseball game.
    Good Searching
    Gary Ray

  32. 1. Fire Grenade Bottles

    2. Early ones used salt-water, but CTC (carbon tetrachloride) was more effective



  33. 1. What were these devices commonly called?

    Answer: Fire grenades

    2. What problematic fluid were they often filled with?

    Answer: carbon tetrachloride a.k.a. tetrachloromethane

    3. Can you find the original patent for this device?

    Automatic Fire Extinguisher by James Alford House Patent No. 318743

    I used the query below:

    "fire extinguisher" home globe 1800..1900, then to this site:

    for the advertisement

  34. did an image search for [19th century fire-fighting devices]
    found glass globe kind of a device
    through that page found the name "Hayward Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher"

    1. commonly called as "Hand Grenade fire extinguishers"

    2. initially they were filled with plane salt water (to prevent freezing) later it was replaced with Carbon Tetrachloride, which was found to be damaging the nervous system and liver

    3. then searched for [fire grenade] in patents. as there were patents from the 1800s, I put a date limit, between 1800 to 1880 and found the oldest patent.. #117891 here's the link to the patent

    Extra Credit- did an image search again for [fire extinguisher grenade advertisement]
    Found the image from this post!!

    other ads-,r:4,s:0,i:84&tx=0&ty=68

    Nice challenge! cheers!

  35. And with all this activity, nobody bothered to update the Wikipedia entry, for instance linking the liquid in the fire grenades to its Wikipedia entry? I'm disappointed.

  36. I searched globe fire extinguishers and got:

    The devices were commonly called : red comet which I found by clicking on the image in the wiki. Then I did an additional search to confirm: red comet fire grenade to get results:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=c235fa9a57b65a00&bpcl=35466521&biw=1280&bih=863

    The gas was listed in the original article as carbon tetrachloride.

    Following this I googled the manufacturers: The Pyrene Manufacturing Company of Delaware and searched by patent, and limited the date range to between 1910 & 1912. I found this patent:

    I then searched "red comet advertisement" by images to get this:,r:0,s:0,i:71&tx=157&ty=71

    In hindsight I should have refined this further as it only gave one result.

    1. the Red Comet find was interesting and showed that the use of this type of fire suppression continued well into the 50's and maybe later in the U.S.. - also that the handling of 17,000 gallons of carbon tetrachloride, supplied by Dow Chemical, per order to Red Comet would not have been exactly an OSHA/EPA approved operation... if they had existed at the time. Again, interesting find and historical perspective.

  37. I found the same info as others but I took it a step further. I checked out SF Hayward & Company to find them mentioned in the Law Time Reports Volume 54 page 834-837. Interesting reading that the Patent 117891 for the Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher registered by Samuel Jackson on Aug 7 1871 was challenged by Harden Star Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher Company which put this patent into question. Mr Hayward was accused to stealing the design etc. I won't bore you with all the details but you can scroll down to this court case and find the judges verdict. In Googles Books insert S.F. Hayward & Company -inauthor:"S.F. Hayward & Company" " and select The Law Times Report filed by a J. Sinclair. He suggested that the original designs #10439 and #22680 registered July 21, 1884 and Feb 21, 1885 should be expunged and mentioned was Patent #117891 which others found as the original patent. If you have some time read the transcript.