When Did Smoke Detectors Get So Popular?


The most recent figures on the subject suggest that over 80% of homes in countries such as the UK and the USA use smoke alarms. However, many of us remember growing up in a world in which few if any of the homes we visited had one, so when did they get so popular?

The Beginnings
To answer the question we need to go right back to look at the first smoke detector inventions. The end of the 19th century is when Francis Robbins Upton came up with the first ever electric fire alarm system. This happened in the USA and not longer afterwards the UK was the scene of a further advance when George Andrew Derby got the first British patent for an electric heat and fire detector. There are some images of the designs of these early attempts at a workable smoke detector and obviously they don’t look too much like the ones we use now. They seem to have been accurate in detecting smoke but sadly they were extremely expensive in those days and this greatly limited the number of people who could purchase one for their home or business. These early pioneers would no doubt have been surprised to learn how long it would take for a commercially viable alarm to become available.

Further Advances
As it common with many inventions, the next big breakthrough came through an accident. The Swiss inventor Walter Jaeger was trying to invent a machine to detect poison gas when he realised that it detected normal smoke instead. The story goes that he got so fed up with his machine not working when presented with poison gas that he started smoking a cigarette and saw that the smoke activated the device.

The Swinging, Smoke Detecting Sixties
It seems strange to believe but it then wasn’t until the late 1960s that these essential home devices become widely available at a decent price. These were battery operated and while they don’t offer the same level of performance and efficiency as modern ones they are still a good indication of what was to come.

The Present Years
In the last couple of decades the use of smoke alarms has increased drastically in both homes and offices across the world. In fact, no matter where you go in the planet you are likely to come across them. The simplicity of operation and the low cost are definitely a couple of the reasons for their current popularity. The only worrying statistic is that up to a third of these devices are not properly maintained, according to some research. The taking out of batteries or the failure to replace used ones are the main reasons for homes or offices containing smoke detectors which don’t work.

Find out more about smoke detectors and fire prevention on the ADT website.

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