Pyrene Manufacturing Company

Pyrene Manufacturing Company

The History of Pyrene Manufacturing Company

The first version of a modern fire extinguisher was developed in 1819 by Englishman George Manby, termed the “Extincteur.” Manby designed a sealed copper canister to hold compressed air and three gallons of a potassium carbonate solution.

This basic design, with modifications, was the standard for almost 100 years. However, after Scottish engineer P.L. Wilbur traveled to the United States with a new extinguisher in hand, Manby’s original invention was one of the past. Wilbur had developed an extinguisher that used carbon tetrachloride, a chemical primarily used as a cleaning solvent, but was unable to secure financing for the project in his home country. Once receiving the funding he needed to produce his invention, Wilbur founded the Pyrene Manufacturing Company in 1909.

The Pyrene Manufacturing Company pioneered using carbon tetrachloride for fighting fires, releasing small, portable extinguishers consisting of a brass bottle with an integrated hand pump to expel a jet of liquid toward the fire. After the extinguisher was empty and depressurized, it could easily be refilled. Carbon tetrachloride was a suitable extinguisher for liquid and electrical fires, making the portable extinguishers safe for use on motor cars or aircrafts. Unbeknownst to the public at the time, the vapor released from CTC is highly toxic and was generally more hazardous to the user than the fire it was meant to put out.

Soon after their release in 1911, Pyrene extinguishers could be found across the United States, whether in homes or motor transportation. Pyrene established an independent sales system that spread its reach and boosted sales. The company soon became one of the top fire extinguishers manufacturers in the United States and London after investors changed their minds about financing.

Pyrene continued to succeed throughout the next few years into World War I until the company received a new president, C. Louis Allen. Allen, seeking better short-term returns for the company, dissolved the independent sales system, thinking that selling direct would bring in more profit. However, this significantly damaged Pyrene’s reputation, and profits slowly declined until 1956, when The Fyr-Fyter Company of Dayton, Ohio, acquired the company. Funnily enough, Fyr-Fyter was founded by Roscoe Innings, an ex-salesman for Pyrene. Innings was displaced by the termination of the independent sales system and, after suing Pyrene for breach of contract for $175,056.89 (~$4 million today), founded his own company.

Pyrene Company Limited, the British offshoot, followed the same fate and was acquired by Chubb Fire & Security in 1967.

The Pyrene Manufacturing Company lives on today through its highly collectible extinguishers.