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Where’s There’s Smoke…

December 28, 2013

The New Year is always a great time to reassess various elements in our lives.  Everything from health to money is pondered as the clock strikes midnight on January 1st.  One detail that many include in their “things to do” list for the New Year is to replace their batteries in their household smoke and carbon dioxide alarm detectors.

It’s been a long road from first invention to the small ceiling mounted smoke detectors that we are all familiar with in our homes.  How did this technology begin and who worked to get us a device that when properly working is a vital means for saving lives when a fire strikes?

The first electric smoke alarm was designed, invented, and patented by Francis Upton in 1890.  He began life with his very educated parents traveling to Europe and soaking up as much math and science as he could study.  He started school at the Phillips Academy in Andover, but at the age of 16 was forced to take over his father’s glue business when his father became too ill to work.

However, he was soon able to return to academia and began to study science at Bowdoin College where he received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in 1877.  Upton was fortunate to have worked under the “scientist-sage” Hermann von Helmholtz at one point in his studies.  It was through this relationship that Upton attracted the attention of Thomas Edison.  Edison hired him in 1878.  Together, Edison and Upton worked on key inventions such as the incandescent lamp and the watt-hour meter. 

It was in 1890, that Upton patented the first electric fire alarm detector along with Fernando Dibble.  The two often aren’t notes as the first to invent the smoke detector.  During the patent process it was mislabeled as the “Portable Electric Tire Alarm” (not Fire!).

For the next 70 years, Upton’s detector was used to some degree by factories and industrial facilities; it was still a large cumbersome installation that required extensive electrical wiring to operate the alarm.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the smoke detector was made affordable through an invention by Duane Pearsall.  In 1965, Pearsall introduced an individual battery powered smoke detector.  Its size and the fact that it required only batteries made it easy to install and replace.  The company was sold to Emerson Electric in 1980 and Sears began the full distribution of these smoke detectors.  It was via this smaller, battery powered version that now 96% of Americans are protected by these devices.

Today, there are a variety of smoke alarms available that also include carbon dioxide monitoring and sometimes even radon.  The two basic types are ionization and photoelectric. 

Here are some general guidelines for smoke alarm maintenance:

9 volt-battery operated alarm should be tested each month and replace the batteries at least once per year.  After 8 to 10 years of operation, the entire unit should be replaced with a new one.

10 year lithium battery operated smoke alarm, be sure to test the alarm monthly and only replace the entire unit at the end of the 10 year battery cycle.

Hardwired smoke detectors should also be tested on a monthly basis and after 8 to 10 years, the unit should be replaced for new technology.

Now that you know a bit more about the smoke detector, don’t forget to test the alarm this month and now that 2014 is upon us, be certain to replace the batteries or if your smoke detectors are older, be sure to replace the unit before February!

Some of the Keystone Electronic products that you might find in a smoke detector include: 9 Volt Battery  Straps, 9 volt Lithium and Alkaline Battery Holders, and 9 Volt Battery Headers and PCB Connectors.