Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is for Fire Escape: Inventions by Women A-Z

Anna Connelly invented a fire escape that was patented in 1887. Very little is known about her personally, but from the patent, we do know she resided in Pennsylvania. According to one source, her filing was the first patent registered for a woman after the Civil War. (But I would add, it was maybe one of the first, since there were certainly other women with patents prior to 1887). It would be interesting to research her story using primary resources (hmm....a book opportunity for someone?). 

1860 New York City Tenement Fire
 We do know that fire escapes were either missing or inferior in American cities in the late 19th century (and likely elsewhere in the world). Without building codes, fire outbreaks had become a serious threat to lives and property. With more and more apartments (tenement housing), and multi-level business buildings and factories being built, increasingly in wood, news of workers and families trapped inside their workplaces and homes was becoming commonplace. 

One tenement fire in 1860 made the headlines that caused alarm when people had to jump from the burning building. Fortunately, that particular fire and others like it brought attention to the problem. There was a sharp increase in fire escape inventions during the period 1877-1895. 

Thirty-three of the inventions filed were by women. 

Anna Connelly's invention was an improvement over the classic fire escape that wound down the side of a building. Her invention allowed people to escape via an "iron railed bridge" that  connected adjacent roof tops and buildings. Two trap doors at both ends of the bridge made access easy. 

The diagram in the patent
An example of how it worked


Anna's invention led to the first building codes ever established in New York City, which stated that a second means of escape in a fire was mandatory. The fire escape did not require remodeling of the building, so it was very cost effective, and helped fire fighters get water to the fire faster. The new fire escape also had staircases with platforms between levels, preventing people from falling. 

Anna's invention was not the first fire escape patent filed. In 1766 another patent had been filed for a much cruder set-up involving a pulley system with a wicker basket, whereas Anna's fire escape with all its improvements, became the prototype for the modern fire escape we know today. Thousands of lives have been saved as a result.



 

Sources:
http://americacomesalive.com/newsletter-archive/important-inventions-women-may-2014/
http://www.thetalleygroup.com/tag/anna-connelly/
http://eastcoastfireescapes.com/fire-escapes-and-eminism-the-irst-ire-escape-invented-by-a-woman/#.VQDTyY6UbYg
 

Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

22 comments:

  1. Extremely interesting, I am learning a lot coming to your A to Z.

    Yvonne.

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I'm learning a lot too. Hasn't helped I was hit with a bout of flu for three days. Not sure where that came from. Better today!

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  2. Very eye opening! I had no idea there were so many different patents for fire escapes. Anna came up with something great.

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    1. Hi Nick! Hope you're enjoying the a-z. Her invention did more than we'll ever know....

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  3. She had a head on her shoulders, didn't she :). I had no idea half the things women invented - loving your posts.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. I love the follow through these women had with their ideas. They didn't just talk about it. They made it happen!

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  4. It would be interesting to know more about this woman. I wonder if she had family or friends who died in the fire or a fire. Again another invention the average joe has no idea it was invented by a woman

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    1. It does seem possible. Women in general were the caretakers in the home... their primary role, and perhaps more emotionally involved.

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  5. Hi Sharon - fascinating .. who'd have thought a woman would have invented a fire escape .. amazing. I wonder if she's better known somewhere ... as you say a book perhaps ... cheers Hilary

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    1. And not just Anna tackled this invention. It was somethng women were obviously concerned about. Thanks, Hilary!

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  6. And still in 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed so many women. I'm trying to remember if one of the outrages was there were no fire escapes. Very interesting.

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    1. That would have been good to write about here. It was one of many devastating fires!!

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  7. Was hers the first metal fire escape? That would make a huge difference: the iron could get hot, but it would not burst into flames. Incidentally, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory had a fire escape, but it was so narrow it would have taken hours for everyone to get out.

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    1. No, not the first. Hers was an improvement over the old one that wound down a building. It became the prototype for future fire escapes. But iron does heat up as you say, so sure wasn't perfect!

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  8. This is a very interesting post. I think of fires and the escape so I suppose more women do too. I live in an old 2-story house so I have upstairs, for an escape, steps on a rope that will go over the window sill and drop down. I'd hate to actually climb down it but I suppose it would work very well.

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    1. Oh, my goodness. I'm glad there's a fire escape in place. Thanks for commenting, Manzanita.

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  9. Thanks Sharon - I'm learning so much about women in history and their inventions through your posts. Good on Anna! Another hero/ine.

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  10. p.s. hope the bug has flown away. Glad you're feeling better.

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  11. Does anyone know when she was born or any history on her. I've looked everywhere and nothing. My daughter has to find some information on her. We just know about her invention. Thank you!!

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