On this Day:

On April 8, 1766, the world’s first fire escape was patented. It consisted of a wicker basket on a pulley and chain and was granted to a London watchmaker.

Is it even possible to calculate how many lives have been saved by fire escapes?

Over the years several types of fire escapes have been used. Initially it was a knotted rope or rope ladder secured to an inside wall. The issue with this is that the rope was flammable and not everyone had the strength, agility or confidence to climb down a rope.

Later a chute was developed. It was attached to the inside of a window and in the case of a fire it could be thrown out the window and individuals in danger could slide down, using their feet and hands pressing against the chute to control their speed. This was a very bulky option.

Another way to escape was by an enclosed fire and smoke-proof stairway.

The next was an iron balcony, that is, an open iron stairway on the building’s exterior which was invented by Anna Connelly. The iron stairway became popular because it could be added to the outside of nearly any building of modest height. The iron balcony extended around the exterior of a building to provide a corridor along which persons could flee from fire-imperilled rooms to safety.

Fire escapes seem like a pretty basic unit of architecture, but believe it or not, they became a source of design innovation once people started relying on oil stoves and fire lit lights.

One of the weirder fire escape inventions goes to Pasquale Nigro, who secured a patent in 1909 for a winged contraption that would allow families to literally fly out of burning buildings. Due to lack of fire regulation and just plain fear, especially in New York, where there were no qualifications for safe or approved fire escapes—inventors like Nigro were emboldened to produce escape plans, no matter how impractical they were.

Another doozy is B.B. Oppenheimer’s 1879 patent for a “fire escape helmet,” which was a wax cloth chute and matching clown shoes to be worn on your head and feet, respectively. The idea was to jump from a burning building and land “without injury and without the least damage on the ground.”

Building designs and regulations have improved over the years. We all have new ways to control the spread of a fire as well as ways to exit our buildings safely, thanks to the many inventors, architects and engineers, as well as many other individuals and companies that help to ensure our safety. It all started with ropes….and a wicker basket complete with pulleys and chains.


First, a Story:

What do you call a jacket that’s on fire?

A blazer.

Second, a Song:

Imagine living in a multi-story building without safe fire escapes, driving without seatbelts, using lead paint, and smoking and drinking while pregnant. Past generations did not understand the dangers; or even if they did, safety procedures had not been invented yet.  We know more and we know better today and we’re all certainly thankful for the safety measures that are now in place. So buckle up for today’s video, where we take a look at the top 15 incredible safety inventions!

Note to readers: the entire video is excellent but if you want to see just the section on fire safety, it runs from 4:05 to 6:09.


Thought for the Day:

“April 8, 1766 The first fire escape patented which was a wicker basket on a pulley & chain. Just what I want to get into during a fire, a wicker basket!” – Michael Fishman

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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