A Look Back...

by , from the 7/2001 issue of Sprinkler Age, page 26

Editor's Note: As the American Fire Sprinkler Association celebrates its 20th anniversary, Sprinkler Age notes this milestone by reprinting articles from the association's early years. Following is an article about the Henry S. Parmelee Award, the highest honor given by AFSA, and its first recipient.

A Word About Henry S. Parmelee

The AFSA Board of Directors thought it was only fitting that the first national award by the fire sprinkler industry should memorialize some great contributor to the fire sprinkler industry. The location of AFSA's national headquarters in New Haven, Conn. served as a mnemonic trigger and the judges of the award committee felt that it would be fitting to name the award in honor of the recognized inventor of the first commercially successful closed sprinkler head: Henry S. Parmelee of New Haven, Conn.

In 1874, Henry S. Parmelee, then president of the Mathusek Piano Works of New Haven, Conn. invented and supervised the first installation of his closed sprinkler head in the Mathusek Piano Works. Parmelee invented the closed sprinkler in reaction to the exorbitant insurance rates of the day. The rates had been driven to record levels by the great conflagrations in Chicago and Boston in 1871 and 1872, respectively. He called his invention the "automatic fire extinguisher."

Parmelee was a unique man in many ways and came from a prominent New Haven family. Henry Parmelee was one of the first New Haveners to respond to President Lincoln's call for volunteers during the Civil War and he went off to battle with the First Connecticut Calvary. His military career was short-lived however. During his first engagement, the battle for Sailor's Creek, Va., his right hand was blown off and he was mustered out of the Army, returning to New Haven as somewhat of a local hero. Back in New Haven he worked with his father for a short while before founding the Mathusek Piano Works.

Henry Parmelee's first sprinkler system was installed by the New Haven plumbing firm of Foskett and Bishop. Parmelee brought out two heads in rapid succession in 1874 and 1875. His sprinklers were called water-joint sprinklers. They were relatively slow to operate because the seal could not be melted until the entire sprinkler Ñ and the water in it Ñ was raised to the melting point of solder.

Soon Henry Parmelee's business friends were asking him to design sprinkler systems for their factories. Realizing the potential in his invention, he formed the Parmelee Sprinkler Company and through Frederick Grinnell, contracted to have Grinnell's company, the Providence Steam & Gas Pipe Company, install his new invention. Frederick Grinnell had already achieved a reputation in this field having installed an elaborate "perforated pipe" system for the great textile complex in Lowell, Mass.

Rhodes Chosen for Industry Award

John M. (Jack) Rhodes, vice president and chief operating officer of the Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FM), has been chosen to be the first recipient of the Henry S. Parmelee Award for outstanding service and support to the fire sprinkler industry. The award will be formally presented at the Second Annual Meeting and Trade Exhibition of the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) in New Orleans, September 11-14, 1983.

Rhodes was chosen from among a list of ten nominees for the award that represented the most prominent leaders of the American fire protection community. His selection by the award judges was unanimous and he scored the highest number of points on the criteria considered by the three judges: outstanding service and support to the fire sprinkler industry, history of support and service to the fire sprinkler industry, and service to the overall cause of goof fire protection.

"Jack" Rhodes has had a long and distinguished career in fire protection. Born in Pennsylvania, he grew up and was educated in Delaware graduating as a chemical engineer from the University of Delaware in 1940. Shortly after joining Factory Mutual in 1940, Rhodes joined the U.S. Army and spent the next five years in the Mediterranean and European Theaters winding up his service as a battery commander in the field artillery.

After being "demobbed," Rhodes returned to FM as a field and laboratory engineer where he began his climb up the career ladder as engineer-in-charge of the FM Test Center, assistant director of laboratories, St. Louis district manager, director of engineering, director of research, and then to the position of vice president and chief operating officer.

Early in his career Rhodes became a registered professional fire protection engineer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a charter member and fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. He was a frequent and popular contributor to the professional literature and became a well-known figure in national fire protection circles. Long known as a quiet, diligent and selfless worker in the cause of good fire protection, Rhodes won the admiration and respect of thousands of his colleagues throughout the United States and overseas.

Ever a person to remember his larger responsibilities, Rhodes has devoted thousands of hours to civic and church affairs. In his retirement Rhodes hopes to travel the country in his van and still find lots of time to keep up with the changing world of fire protection. The judges of the Henry S. Parmelee Award Committee and the Board of Directors of AFSA are extremely proud to have Rhodes as the first recipient of this long overdue industry award.

Taken from Sprinkler Age, August 1983.

Since That TimeÉ

Since presenting the Henry S. Parmelee Award to Jack Rhodes in 1981, AFSA has honored 18 other industry veterans. The award is given to recipients today who have "dedicated himself or herself to the professional advancement of the fire sprinkler industry and to the goal of fire safety through automatic sprinklers."

The 2001 Henry S. Parmelee Award will be presented during the opening session of AFSA's 20th Anniversary Convention & Exhibition, to be held September 12-16 in Boca Raton, Fla. For details on convention registration visit or call (214) 349-5965.

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