In 1806 John Carey, an Englishman, invented a perforated sprinkler connected to a pipe system and controled by wieghted valves held closed by combustible cords or string, the burning of which automatically opened the valve. Water, under pressure from an elevated holding tank, would supply the means of extinguishment. There is no record of this system having been applied. British inventor Sir William Congreve patented a manual sprinkler system in 1812 which perforated pipes were installed along the ceiling. Valves outside the building were opened to send water through the pipes when a fire was recognized. From 1852 to 1885, perforated pipe systems were used in textile mills throughout New England as a means of fire protection. These systems were not automatic and would cause entire areas to be doused with water, not exclusive to where the fire was.
Credit for inventing the very first automatic sprinkler head, as we are familiar with today, goes to Major A. Stewart Harrison of the 1st Engineer London Volunteers in 1864. The first automatic sprinkler system was patented by Philip W. Pratt of Abington, MA, in 1872.
It is Henry S Parmalee, however, of New Haven, Connecticut that is considered the inventor of the first practicle automatic sprinkler head. Parmalee improved upon the Pratts patent and created a better sprinkler system. In 1874, he installed his fire sprinkler system into the piano factory that he owned. Frederick Grinnell also improved Parmalee’s design and in 1881 patented the automatic sprinkler that bears his name. He continued to improve the device and in 1890 invented the glass disc sprinkler, essentially the same as that in use today.