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February 24, 2020 48 mins

Fire technology depends on the ability to not only create and foster fire, but also the ability to snuff it out as needed. Today, the fire extinguisher is an important active fire protection device, but where does this technology emerge in human techno-history? Robert and Joe explore in this episode of Invention.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Invention, a production of I Heart Radio. Hey,
welcome to Invention. My name is Robert Lamb and I'm
Joe McCormick, and we're back with part two of our
exploration of the fire extinguisher. Now a brief refresher. On
the last episode, we talked about firefighting techniques that would
have been available to ancient people's. We talked about firefighting

in ancient Rome, real estate, hustles, crassus, pumps, axes, ballistas.
We talked about anti fire grenades, those that had gunpowder
elements and tried to stop fires through explosions, and those
that were just basically glass light bulbs full of water
or seawater or not seawater, saltwater or other very dangerous chemicals. Yeah,

And of course in all of that we really didn't
get to something that would even really be recognizable as
as like a modern fire extinguisher. But that's where we're
getting to in this episode. We're going to discuss where
this more or less modern fire extinguisher emerges. Right, because
when you think of a modern fire extinguisher, what do
you picture? It's some kind of tank, right, You've kind

of tank with contents under pressure, and you operate some
kind of leaver nozzle to spray the pressurized contents out
onto a fire to put it out. Where does that
come in? I guess the closest we actually got in
the last episode would have been the pumps based on
Tacibius of Alexandria's model, which, uh, some of the historians
we looked at last time or or engineers thought would

not have been very effective, right, right, Yeah, it was
pretty pretty much agreed that they would have been more
you know, I mean, maybe useful for very specific small
fires you needed to put out, but certainly when a
blaze got out of hand, it was out of hand,
and that's when you have to bring in the siege equipment. Right,
But but maybe not much more effective than a bucket. Right,

We're talking about the the handheld but powerful units that
I don't know about everybody else, but my my earliest
exposure two was watching the original horror film The Blob,
because they used the fire extinguishers on the Blob in
order to like drive it back. I don't remember that detail.
I've seen The Blob, but I've forgotten about that. I

know as a child a movie scene that really stuck
in My memory was in one of the bad James
Bond movies. I think it was in Diamonds Are Forever
that Sean Connery uses a fire extinguisher to murder a man.
I think he just kind of sprays him in the
face until he dies. Oh man. Yeah, they are occasionally
used his way. Usually you see them used as more

of a bulk weapon, you know, it just as a
means of braining somebody. I think there's some of that too. Yeah,
it's a general fight. It ends with a lot of spraying.
But we're not We're not gonna be using fire extinguishers
to kill people today. We're gonna be talking about the
origins of the portable pressurized fire extinguisher. And in order
to do that, I discovered that we would have to

end up looking at a very interesting fellow named George
William Man who lives seventeen sixty five to eighteen fifty four,
who was an English inventor, a naval officer, and a
I sort of think of as a boreal obsessive, a
man with the Arctic on the brain. I think obsession
is a is a key thing to keep in mind

with this character. Uh, just across the board because his
life does seem to be just a series of obsessions
after obsessions, sometimes very fruitful obsessions, other times not so much.
But but I guess that's like perhaps that sort of
mind he had, like once it had latched onto something,
it was not going to let go until it had,
you know, until it had reached the end of the journey.

I really did not expect as interesting a biography as
this to lie at the origins of the portable pressurized
fire extinguisher. So I'm very excited. So I was looking
at several sources about man best life. I couldn't find
a book about him or anything that seemed appropriate, like
you know, the ultimate authority on the subject. But the
best thing I came across was a paper by a

historian and scholar named William Barr, no relation at all
to the current U. S. Attorney General William Barr. This
William Barr is a research fellow in residence at the
Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary.
He's sort of an Arctic researcher and historian. And this
paper was written in two thousand one for the journal
Polar Record, which is apparently a publication of Cambridge University Press.

It's called Harpoon Guns, the Lost Greenland Settlement and Penal Colonies.
George Manby's Arctic obsessions so man be as recounted by
William Barr here. George William Manby was born on November
seventeen sixty five. He was the son of a captain
in the Welsh Few Silly Years. I hope I'm saying
that right, but basically these would be troops that used

few sills, a type of musket. And he grew up
at a family estate called wood Hall in Norfolk, East Anglia.
So if you're trying to picture this, this is on
the east coast of England, sort of up north of
London and to the east. When George was twelve, his
father had him enrolled at a prep school for future
artillery officers. I think he wanted George to follow in

his military footsteps. He's like, okay, you know you can
command the guns. You'll be the artillery officer of tomorrow.
And this prep school for artillery boys was housed at
the Tower of London, which seems like a very strange
place to hold a prep school for young boys of
calls Dungeon. Yeah, well, it calls to mind the fates
of like Edward the fifth and his brother Richard. Apparently,

young George in artillery school absolutely hated math, which is
a surprising fact to learn about a young inventor, and
he ultimately failed to pass the qualification tests to be
an officer in the Royal Artillery. So he's got this
career path laid out for him, but it involves a
lot of math, because you know, to be an artillery
officer at the time, you didn't have a computer to

do it. You had to calculate trajectories and know how
to aim the guns and all that. It was a
very math heavy and he couldn't hack it. It kind
of had to be uh, some version of an art
childery meant hat to handle the computations. So instead he
became an officer in the less math heavy branch of
the armed forces, the Cambridgeshire Militia, where he ultimately became

a captain. But even here he ran into trouble again
because he could not keep up with the physical demands
of the job because of some unspecified problems with his feet.
And I don't know if this amounts to a real
disease or real disability, or if it was just him
complaining that his feet hurt. I can't suss out the
source of this complaint because it could have been any

if it were a legitimate ailment there. It could have
been any number of ailment ranging from you know, gut
to bone spurs to flat feet, etcetera. So he had
to resign his militia post in seventeen nine, so he
did not qualify for artillery, even though he'd been planning
on it. Then he got disappointment, but then couldn't hack
the physical requirements and done there too. So George William

Manby's first wife was named Jane Preston, and she was
the daughter of an Anglican rector who had been friends
with George his father. George married her just before Christmas
of seventeen again, the same year he got forced out
of his his military service. Apparently they both had issues
with money. Jane was described as spoiled and extremely extravagant,

and George was, in Bar's words, totally unbusinesslike. Within within
like five years, they were completely out of cash, deep
in arrears, and to settle their debts they had to
sell Manby's family estate, so by by Wood Hall that's gone.
And after this, man Bey tried to make a living
writing guide books. And just as a side note, I

love outdated travel books. They are so often full of
weird lies, and I'm sure these would be amazing to read.
I think he was writing them mostly about his own region,
about like you know, guide books to places in East
East Anglia, to Clifton or whatever. And while he was
doing that, meanwhile Jane began an affair with an officer
of the East India Company named Captain Pogson. And here

things get crazy and I'll just have to read a
quote from bar quote. Under circumstances that remain rather confused,
Pogson shot man Be in the back of the head.
One story is that they had fought a duel and
that man Bey had started running away. The wound, although serious,
was not fatal, but the bullet had driven pieces of
the felt hat Manby had been wearing deep into his skull.

Well Over a year later, man Be underwent a series
of operations to remove the bullet and rotting pieces of felt.
The operation was a success and that man Be survived,
but damage was done to his brain and his behavior
thereafter was somewhat peculiar. Now this is interesting. We we
spoke recently in an episode of Stuff to Blow Your

Mind about changes to the brain, injuries to the brain,
and their their effect on personality, but sometimes even on
one's ability to to excel at certain tasks. So I
wonder if would be going too far to to wonder
about those possibilities here with Mandy. Yeah, obviously nothing here
can be proved, but it does appear it's at least

interesting that he suffered traumatic brain injury. He got a
bullet in the brain, survived it, and then after this
was before his inventing career began, right, Yeah, I guess
it's more realistic to to state that he simply went
on to become a noted inventor in spite of having
been shot in the back of the head, rather cause
of it. But but anyway, the sidebar for a further

discussion on brain injuries and other episodes. But he wasn't
there yet. So after being shot in the head, having
the bullet and the rotting felt removed Manby's old friend
Charles Yorke, who happened to have become Secretary of War
at the time or Secretary for War. I think it
was called I'm not quite sure, maybe out of pity

or for whatever reason, granted man be a position that
bar calls a near sinecure, as a barrack master of
the Yarmouth Barracks. Now sinecure up, you know, like a
position where you don't really have to do much work.
You know, you're kind of getting getting paid for not much.
So why a near sinecure? Why would it be this
easy job to be barrack master of the Armouth Barracks. Well,

it seems this is because there were rarely any troops
in the Armouth Barracks, only occasionally during training or when
they were being moved from one place to another, so
a lot of the time he didn't have much to do.
And during his time in this role, Manby was technically
still married to Jane, but he apparently spent most of
his attention, energy and time cultivating the the persona of

a gentleman about town. He would go entertaining, he would
go to social functions with naval officers, and he really
liked to dress up and show off his cool clothes.
He was the kind of person that at this time
would have been derisively called a dandy. But for the
most part he's he's really not doing much at this point,
like he barely has a has any responsibilities. He's just

having a good time around town. He's partying, yeah, yeah,
living the party life. But then around the year eighteen
o seven, something happened that changed Manby's life, and it
was that he witnessed a shocking calamity. So off the
coast of East Anglia there are these long stretches of
coastal bars, and a bar is essentially a shallow submerged

bank or coast running parallel to the real bank or
coast right so it can be made of sand or
gravel or something that kind of comes up pretty close
to the waterline but stays below it at a distance
from the actual shore. And these of course can cause
strange types of wave activity around them. Uh, they can
pose a couple of hazards to ships. Ships can run

aground on them and become stuck. But also waves can
be very high and very powerful in the bar zone,
easily capsizing even larger vessels. And on one night in
February eighteen o seven, during bad weather, several ships were
all wrecked on the bar off the coast of Yarmouth,
including a gun brig called the HMS Snipe. Now, according

to some resources I was reading from the Norfolk Museums
and Archaeology Service, these wrecks would have been approximately sixty
yards or like fifty five meters offshore. Imagine how maddeningly
close that is. Uh. And so, along with most of
the citizens of the town, man be spent that night
on the beach trying to find or watching people try

to find a way to rescue the people from the
wreck who were drowning in the waves, like within clear sight.
But there was no way to help them. I mean,
imagine that they're right there. If it was across ground,
you could run to them in a matter of seconds.
But because of the surf and the bars and the
heavy wind, bad weather, you couldn't just go out to them.
You couldn't go out and rescue boats. So what can

you do? Bar rights that The next morning quote the
beach at Yarmouth was littered with a hundred and forty
four corpses, sixty seven of which had come from the
HMS Snipe. According to the Norfolk Museums, a total of
two hundred and fourteen people died in the disaster. So
it was a huge disaster, I mean hundreds dead. But
out of this tragedy an idea began to form in

Manby's head. So he thought, okay, if you could just
get a strong rope out to the wreckage of the
boat and anchor one end at the shore secure the
other end to the ship, you'd have a chance to
get people in safely along the line. And in fact,
this is what rescuers on the beach at Yarmouth had
been trying in vain to do to to get a
line out to the boat, but they couldn't do it.

The distance was too far, Like how would you get
a line secured to the ship from the shore. But
man Be thought back to his artillery school training. This
is the subject in which he had been you know,
like he'd kicked and screamed against the arc trajectory equations.
He didn't like the math. Uh, he had failed to
qualify as an officer, but he still of course had
the knowledge of what you basically do when you're working

with artillery, and he thought, if you could essentially load
a rescue line into a mortar, you could fire it
from the or to the wreck secured it both ends
and then maybe use that line to carry a heavy
rope from the shore to the wreck and bring the
victims onto the beach across that suspended rope or cable.

And of course, anybody who's ever watched say, a bunch
of Batman cartoons that this should sound rather familiar. This
is exactly the sort of thing Batman is liable to
do with his uh, his little grappling hook launcher device,
the back claw or the zip line. Yea, yeah, But
of course they didn't have whatever you know, pneumatic magic
Batman is using. They did have cannons, So maybe we

should take a break and then we come back. We
can explore the idea of the life saving cannon. Alright,
we're back, so um yeah. Obviously cannon technology was already
um you know, well established, but generally for the purposes

of of bringing about death and destruction, not preventing it. Right,
So Manby has this idea for a life saving gun
to rescue people from shipwrecks trapped out on a bar
out from the shore. Now, again, math was not man
be strong suit, but due to his role at the
Armouth Barracks, he fortunately had access to artillery where he

could perform hands on experimentation, and that's what he did.
He tried attaching lines to cannon shot and then firing
these lines across the fields. And at first this didn't
work because the heat of the cannon shot inevitably burned
through the rope material that he attached to it. But
he discovered that if he attached the line to the
shot with an intermediate length of braided leather, the leather

was not burned away. It would hold fast. And so
basically he discovered, yeah, this invention would work. He gave
a demonstration on it on a beach near low Stofft
in August eight, ten oh seven, and he got a
metal from the Sufful Humane Society. So this this rescue
line mortar, sometimes known as a man be mortar. It

achieved half of the goal, right, But just getting a
line in place wasn't everything you needed, Like what what
are the crew supposed to do? Then? Like shimmy across
at cliffhanger style? Was I mentioning that? So Manby's next
invention was basically the bottom half of this. Once you
have a line secured, you need something to move back
and forth underneath the line to get people to and

from the boat, and what he created was the other
half of the equation here. Essentially, it was an unsinkable lifeboat.
This would be a tiny vessel secured with casks on
its sides for really high buoyancy. It would be super floaty,
it would be really hard to sink. So you what
you would do is you'd fire a line from the
mortar out to the wreck. You'd attach it to the

wreck somehow, I think naturally. They said it would often
wrap around the rigging or you know part if part
of the mast was left, it could wrap around that.
It would get tangled on the wreck. And then you
would attach the unsinkable lifeboat to the line and send
it back and forth along the line and to bring
crew members to shore. Then, in February eighteen o eight,
this would have been just about a year after the

wreck of the HMS Snipe and the other boats that
that inspired this idea, Manby got a chance to try
his inventions out in the field because on the night
of February twelve that year, there was a small ship
called the Elizabeth that was again wrecked on the bar,
and within half an hour man Bey had a rescue
line shot out to the boat, and the entire crew

was successfully brought in on board Manby's unstakable lifeboat along
the line of life. UH. And then man be demonstrated
the life saving power of this invention on other occasions.
Eventually he began pairing the mortar with something known as
a breaches booy instead of a lifeboat. So if you're
trying to picture this, UH, the way you would be
brought in on the line was in a kind of suspended,

floaty diaper type thing. UH. Imagine a life preserver, you know,
the ring shaped ones. But in the middle of this
life preserver there is a huge pair of underwear and
that's what your life and I think that's an accurate description.
And by all accounts, Manby's invention here was incredibly successful.
It worked, it saved lives, and after these inventions, Manby

became generally obsessed with the idea of creating a national
life saving service in Britain. UH. He was eventually given
a stipend by the British government to survey the eastern
coast of England and identify the best places to have
his life saving mortar line installed. But we mentioned earlier
that Manby would not be satisfied just having invented one

life saving device. He kind of got stuck on the subject.
It seemed like he just wanted to frantically turn his
attention from one type of life threatening scenario to another,
asking could there be an invention to stop people from
dying here? Or how about here? And I wish I
had more insight into the psychology that brings that about,

Like what's going on with him? Like how does he
get is does he just become addicted to the idea
of having in intoed a device for the good of humankind? Yeah? Yeah,
it makes you wonder. I mean part of it also
could just be the success of it, right, I mean
I've done, I've done, like this is what I'm capable of,
and I actually saved lives I I need In a way,
he kind of perhaps becomes a kind of Batman, right,

you know, he's saving people and and let's see where
else I can I can work this magic. I wonder
if it's especially potent, like having achieved that, like he
made the thing and it worked and it saved people's lives,
like after having been pretty much a total screw up
for like the first half of his life and then
nearly losing his life as well. Yeah. So then he

turned to another one and we will get to the
fire extinguisher, but we're not there yet. Before he got
to that, another interesting, uh, life or death scenario he
explored was a problem that William Barr identifies as surprisingly
common as a mode of death in the early eighteen hundreds,
and this was falling through thin ice on frozen lakes. Uh.

I guess the frozen body of water, you know, or rivers,
ponds and all that. People, especially he talks about in Scotland,
people just going out on the ice, falling through and
dying all the time. That strikes me as a rare
and exotic form of death today. But maybe I don't know.
I mean, part of that could could be due to
the region in which we live, where frozen lakes are

not that common. Um, but certainly in places where where
lakes are commonly frozen over, I mean, people venture out
into the ice for a number of reasons, for recreation,
for ice fishing. Uh. It is a way to travel
between point A and point B. Uh. As I've probably
mentioned in the show before, I spent some of my
childhood in Newfoundland, Canada, where certainly like the bay's freeze over,

And there were lots of stories that are a call
of you know, people you know, driving on the ice
and losing a car into it. You know, people either
falling through the ice or like young people jumping from
ice flow to ice flow and sometimes encountering mishaps. So
I guess it basically comes down to the question is
there enough uh, frozen lakes or bays, et cetera, that

are accessible to people and are they there long enough
for people to get out there and fall through it,
because people inevitably will. The ice that seems solid at
first will end up the you know, actually being less so,
and then once it starts breaking, it can can become
very difficult to navigate. Yeah, so many actually created a
couple of different inventions for dealing with people who had

fallen through ice. One was this was interesting. I've never
seen anything like this. It was a kind of sectional
ladder with buoys at the top. So imagine a ladder
that floats on the water where the ice has broken,
and it also has hinged sections so it can, or
at least one version of it did, so you know,
you could put it out along the ice flat and

then the section would hinge down into the water, so
you could catch hold of that and climb up, kind
of forming like a pool ladder type thing. Yeah, I
could say that would be especially useful at that that
that region of of broken and breaking ice, uh, that
you need to climb up over to get out of
the water. And of course I mean the obvious thing
too here is the time is of the essence because

you are in freezing water. Yes, and that's why it
also had a grappling iron to snag the clothing of
people who were unconscious or unable to climb out themselves.
But what about where the ice is too thin for
a floating ladder to work there? Man Be also invented
a quote wicker sledge boat to be propelled by a
spiked pole. So imagine it's a lightweight land to water

rescue vehicle. So if you're needing to go over the ice,
you can push it out over the ice like a
sledge and then if the ice breaks, if the ice
is too thin, it will float and function as a boat. Uh.
Yeah again again a perfect, perfect invention to navigate that
that tricky zone where you're not on like solid ice
yet and you're also not in open water right and

bar rights quote. His inventions were amazingly successful. In one
period of three days, they saved the lives of sixteen
people who had fallen through the ice on the lake
at St. James Park while walking or skating. And this
brings us up to the eighteen tens. So in the
year eighteen fourteen, Manby's first wife, Jane, who he was

technically still married to at this time. I don't think
they were I don't think they had a functional marriage,
but I think, like a lot of people at the
time probably like maybe may have considered divorce untenable socially
or something, so they were still technically married. Uh. And
she passed away in eighteen fourteen, and this apparently freedman
By to to say, oh, now I can get married again.

This time he married a woman named Sophia Gooch. I
guess say, my all time favorite last name. Not the
first time I've encountered it, because I've been to North
Georgia and there's a bunch of Gooch stuff. They're Gooch highways,
and uh, I don't know if Sophia is related to
the founder of the Gooch Freeway or the Gooch Bypass
or whatever it's called. Uh, just spite all of the

the admirable qualities that that man Be is now manifesting.
It does seem, at least according to his letters and
notes from the time, and he doesn't seem like he
was a great husband. It seems like he was, uh
sort of not really, They're like very neglectful of him, right,
And that was before he suffered the injury as well.
I mean there was already evidence of that. And then
the the the gunshot wound to the back of his head, uh,

like he said, seemed to have made him even more
difficult to be around. Yeah, he engaged in obsessive behavior
with his inventions and stuff. Does not seem like he
was a very attentive family member. But to get to
his next invention, here is where we finally get to
the actual fire extinguisher, the first invention of the type

of fire extinguisher we would recognize today that you know,
the pressurized tank. So man Be started thinking about another
common way to die. I guess he's just sitting around
the all day thinking about ways that people die. And
this way was accidental fires bar rights that in early
nineteenth century Britain quote firefighting was almost entirely in the
hands of large insurance companies who were interested solely in

protecting the property of their clients. So this would have been,
you know, not quite as bad as cross us in
the Roman Republic, but still not the kind of firefighting
ethos of public service that we've come to expect today.
This would be a you know, a private for profit
firefighting service, kind of an inverse crossis like, instead of
him buying your home for a pittance while it's on

fire and then putting it out, you pay premiums to
a company to protect the value of your home, and
then they're liable if your home burns down, so they
put it out if it catches on fire. Interesting, it's
hard to really equate that, at least to like individual
experience with insurance. It would it be like if you
had car insurance and the insurance company was like, we

really don't want to pay off on this policy, so
we're gonna have somebody ride with you at all times. Well, yeah,
I mean, if you ever had to argue with an
insurance company and they didn't want to pay a claim,
imagine that's happening while your house is on fire. Now. Also,
as we discussed in the last episode. The bigger a
fire gets, the harder it is to put out, right,
Like a lot of times you'd have urban fires where

even as late as the nineteenth century, your your main
recourse was just to create fire breaks, like you'd have
to pull down houses and stuff to prevent the fire
from spreading. So those crucial early seconds and minutes what
what man Be would come to call incipient fires, Those
can be your window into containing a fire that would
otherwise get out of control. Speed is everything. So man

Be proposed a better solution. He was like, you know,
we should have full time public fire patrols to wander
the cities, putting out fires as early as possible, with
the right kind of technology to allow them to do that.
And this, of course is very Roman solution. This brings
to mind, uh, you know our last episode. Yeah, but
now the the ideas that these fire patrols would be

equipped with technology that the vige lace of ancient Rome
didn't have. And now, again, of course you'd run into
difficulties here like how do you get enough fire snuffing
potential into a small enough package that it's fully portable. Again,
you know, imagine a firefighters wandering the street, they hear
somebody screaming that the fire has broken out in their kitchen,

and then they have to start running buckets from a
pump or a water source to you know, one at
a time. Or they could try to raise the alarm
to form a bucket line get more people involved. But
this takes time to come together, and by the time
it happens, the fire might be twenty times bigger. So
what you need is an invention to increase the density
and portability of fire extinguishing power, like a lot of

fire extinguishing power in a small package that you can
move around. And it was in this spirit that man
Be invented a portable fire extinguisher. UH. If you want
to read about it at length, I found a book
that Manby wrote with illustrations. It was published in eighteen
thirty eight. UH. He describes his inventions in detail. It
has a one of those like titles that's impossibly long

that just begins an address to the British public if
you want to look it up and read it. But
Manby's invention consisted of a large tank containing a pressurized
solution of fire suppressing chemicals, or as he calls them
antiphlogistic fluid. I think he's buying into the now discredited
Flagistan theory. Now, in reality, this antiflogistic fluid was primarily

potassium carbonate, or as he calls it, pearl ash, and
this would be dissolved in water. Uh. The tank originally
had a capacity of either three or four gallons. I've
seen both. Some sources like Britannica say three bars has four,
But either way, this would be a cylindrical tank of
pressurized solution that could be wheeled around the city on

a hand cart. And then whenever you wanted to spray
it onto a fire, you would aim the nozzle and
release the valve, and the release of pressurized air would
cause a spray of the mixture out in a powerful
at and Bar writes that Manby's invention was tremendously useful
and effective, but that man Bey did not take out
a patent on it. Instead, man Be sort of expected

to be rewarded for his inventions with public recognition by
the crown, probably in the form of a knighthood. But
it did not work out for a strangely seed and
petty reason. So I'm just going to read from Bar
here explaining why he did not get his knighthood. Quote.
In eighteen oh six, his brother Thomas had been named

as one of Princess Caroline's lovers at the Commission of
Inquiry convened by the government into her morals otherwise known
as the quote delicate investigation that sounds like a nightmare.
When Thomas vehemently denied any philandering with the princess despite
an alleged bribe of forty thou pounds offered by the

Prince region later King George the Fourth, he and by
association his brother George, incurred the p It's regions eternal enmity.
Thus a knighthood for Mandy was never in the cards.
Oh man, So yeah that that time it wasn't even
manby himself that managed to mess things up. It was
his brother Thomas, I mean allegedly allegedly yes. Um. Thomas,

by the way, was a career military man Um who
would later die of an opium overdose some twenty years
prior to to Mandy's own death. This was the age
of of opium in England, and I mean I think
it would have been not long before this that Erasmus
Darwin is hanging handing out handing out opium prescriptions to
whoever needs has a problem. But yeah, there's a kind

of like horrible ironic tragedy here. Like it combines a
couple of different themes we've seen from invention history, both
noble and otherwise. Like, so Manby declines to pursue intellectual
property rights on life saving inventions. Uh, giving these inventions
as a kind of free gift for the public good
would And there are a number of inventors we've discussed

who went this route, right, Wilhelm Rundkin and the x ray. Right,
you know, he said, I'm not going to try to
make money off this. You know, this is a gift
to the world. It will save lives. We saw the
same with fleming and penicillin salk in, the polio vaccine.
You know, it happens a decent amount. And of course
that part of it is that inevitably other people if
you do this, other people will make money off of it.

You know, they're gonna be a fire extinguishing companies that
that that that come online. There were X ray companies
that came online and profited from this. Right, but you
you renounce your you know, you renounced and he claimed
to say, no, you owe me a cut of that. Um.
But also it expects this kind of gift back from
the state, right, the gift in recognition of his achievements

for the for national pride or for the people. Uh
think of the pension that Louis de Gere got from
the French government for his gift of the Daguero type
to the French people. But yeah, apparently for some reasons
related to family grudges, this did not work out for
man By Um. So in addition to the man be mortar,
he actually also worked on whaling harpoons. Yeah. I was

reading a little bit about this and William Barr's article
as well. He had some innovations in mind for the
whaling harpoon, which which makes sense because the man be
mortar had a lot in common with with whaling harpoon technology. Sure.
But but then apparently on an expedition in which he
was going to try it out. Uh, it sounds like

he managed to tick off the crew enough that they
sabotaged his invention. Yes, so he began getting really interested
in whaling harpoons around the year eighteen nineteen. He had
ideas for hand harpoons and for harpoon guns. And then
it was in the year eighteen twenty one that Manby
went on an Arctic expedition to Greenland with the Captain
William Scoresby Jr. Um Again, it was mostly with the

intention to try his new inventions in the field. Uh
though it sounds like a miserable experience. Bar in in
several places quotes from uh They's journals, and one of
the quotes he actually begins his article with it. And
I just had to share this. So Manby is writing
about what it's like to sleep on this boat going
to the Arctic. He says, in the night, I felt

the inconvenience of a tight ship for the wind blowing
hard agitated the bilge water, and only aginous matter left
last voyage to the production of a gas of so
extremely pungent and nature as to render respiration difficult and
almost to produce suffocation. So the bilge water. I wonder

what this only aginous material is. I mean, I guess
it's just like whatever kind of junk on the boat
drains down into the bilge traps just comes back up
as a foul odor and gas. Uh Yeah, And the
crew they were not fans of man By, They did
not cooperate with him, they were not helpful. However, this
voyage had a profound effect on man By anyway, and

afterwards he it seems like he spent the rest of
his life totally pre occupied with weird ideas about Greenland. Yeah,
again coming back to just the obsessive nature of his personality,
and um, yeah, so there were it was kind of threefold.
I believe One of his obsessions was that that that

England needs to acquire at least a large portion of Greenland,
and then that they need to use that acquired land
as a penal colony. They must, Yes, But then this
other area that was this quite interesting, Uh, it was.
It was Manby's obsession with the idea of a lost
Norse settlement in Greenland and the possibility of not only

finding the remnants of such a settlement, but finding the
living descendants of like modern norsemen of a sort that's
they're still living in Greenland somewhere. So he's basically like
the you know, somewhere in Greenland there's a city of
the descendants of the Vikings, and they're still there and
nobody knows, and we need to set out on an
expedition to find it. Um So I was reading a

bit about this in uh in Bars article. So first
of all, here here's the main deal, like the facts
about Greenland occupation, Greenland new human travelers and settlers as
far back as um b C. It was known to
early Paleo Eskimo cultures Innuit Greenlanders, who's descended still live

there today. They arrived roughly dred C. But the land
was unknown really to Europeans until roughly the tenth century,
when it is recorded to have been spotted by gun
Born Olson, and then in nine and then in the
year two, Eric the Red was exiled there for a

number of years for a murder. And so while he's
there he explores a bit, and then when he comes back,
he says, let's get some settlers together. Let's go to
Greenland and set up some settlements. Let's let's make some money.
Let's let's settle some land. Uh, you know, Viking style
and uh. And so that's what happened. Norse settlements in
Greenland lasted for some four hundred and fifty to five

hundred years, so from roughly CE two somewhere between fourteen
fifty and the year fifteen hundred. Now, various factors seem
to have contributed to the ultimate demise of Norse influence there,
and you know, a lot has been been written about this.
So some of the potential reasons uh include climate change,

environmental damage, conflict with Inuit tribes UH, the opening of
regions elsewhere due to plague depopulation that were more attractive
than Greenland. UH. It's also thought that the trade in
walrus ivory might have played a role here. You might
have had, to say, an influx of ivory from other
markets that affected the value of the ivory that they

could acquire there. And then also possibly playing into this
would have been the over hunting of Greenland walruses, which
which then would have made it even harder to hold
onto these settlements. Okay, so the evidence we have today
indicates that whatever descendants of Norse settlers had been on
on Greenland had probably been gone for over three hundred

years by the time Manby gets interested in this. So
what what gets man Be and Scoresby and these people
going on the idea of a lost Norse settlement. Well
Bar writes that man Be's obsession is probably due to
a misunderstanding um, he writes, quote, the concept of the
lost colony or lost settlement arose from a misunderstanding. The
old Norse settlement in Greenland had consisted of two main areas,

known as Ulster Baggot or East Settlement and vist Bigot
or West Settlement. The former was the area of the
present settlement of Quaker Talk, and the later lay farther
to the northwest, in the area of the present capital
uh Nook. Both settlements thus lay on the southwest coast
of Greenland, west of Cap Farville. So Be and man

Be assumed that the East Settlement lay on the southeast
coast of Greenland, that is, northeast of Cap Farville, an
area that had not been examined for centuries, and hence
they had hopes the descendants of the North settlers might
still survive there. So there was geographic confusion, geographic confusion
combined with like just less knowledge of that area, you know,

because that's the way it is today with a lot
of things, right, we don't we don't really know this
wilderness all that well, maybe there's a Sasquatch there, maybe
there is a low civilization there, you know. Yeah, and
this plays into other ideas of lost settlements and lost
civilizations and you know, throughout throughout the world. Uh so, yeah,
he became rather obsessed with this notion. Of course, there's actually,

as it turns out, there is there was no last settlement.
They were wrong, they were wrong. There's no evidence to
support this idea. That certainly that I've come across. But
that didn't despite not finding that civilization, it didn't prevent
him from pursuing his other ideas again, being that like
he was obsessed with the idea that Britain had to
claim an area of East Greenland north of the area

claimed by Denmark and say okay, this is England now,
and also that it had to be a penal colony.
Got to make it a penal colony. Yeah, it seems
like it's kind of implied that it's it's sort of
like the journey there was his his previous journeys were
so miserable that he kind of like had it out
for the region. Uh. But yeah, again, he's he was.

His obsession was such that in cases where he was
onto something like he was able to really follow through
and develop some life saving technologies. But in these cases
there was just no meat there, but he still chewed
the heck out of it for a number of years. Yeah,
And ultimately Manby died in his home in Yarmouth in
eighteen fifty four. What a strange arc of a life.

So he goes from kind of like artillery school dropout,
you know, kind of a screw up dandy too, very
successful inventor creating very influential inventions that save people's lives,
to crank obsessed with a with a disproven theory about greenland. Yeah, yeah,

kind of a conspiracy theorist really in a sense. Um, Yeah,
there's no telling what what he would be into, now,
what ideas he would be obsessed with, given our own current,
you know, a climate regarding sort of outsider theories and whatnot.
But yeah, it's certainly an interesting life and certainly more yeah,
more more of an interesting life than one would you

might have suspected from the fire extinguisher inventor. All right,
on that note, let's take one more break. But when
we come back, we'll talk about talk a little bit
about fire extinguishers in use today. All right, we're back,
so to talk about the kinds of fire extinguishers you
will encounter today. Um, I think many or most of

them could could be considered basically dire privative of Manby's
original design, there's still some kind of tank with contents
under pressure inside, and those contents are sprayed out of
a nozzle to put out a fire. And I guess
there are like three main types that we can focus on.
So there are of course still extinguishers that are basically

water tanks with spray nozzles. UH. These of course are
mostly useful for small fires with fuel sources like wood
or cloth. They would not be recommended for use on
fires with a liquid fuel, so like kitchen fires, grease fires,
or on electrical fires for all the reasons you might imagine.
You know, you wouldn't want to spray a bunch of
water on an electrical fire. Uh. Some fire extinguishers of

today contain carbon dioxide and it's compressed liquid form which
on operation is sprayed out as a kind of c
O two gas snow to smother the fire into private
of oxygen. And carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so
it will tend to settle down on the fuel source
and provide provide a layer of area between the fuel

and the oxygen that it needs. But another common solution
that's interesting is in pressurized fire extinguishers to use a
dry chemical suppressant, which is a tank that sprays the
type of powder or foam mixture based on sodium bicarbonate,
also known as baking soda. Now under heat, baking soda
quickly breaks down and releases c O two gas, which

again helps to deprive the fire of oxygen and kind
of smothers. It becomes like a gas blanket. And I'm
really unsure what they were using on the blob, you know,
I'm suspecting that the blob was the use of fire extinguishers,
and the blob was perhaps based on the the rough
idea that the blob does not like cold, and fire

extinguishers are cold, and that's what they're doing. They're like
freezing the blob with fire extinguishers. Uh yeah, I don't know.
I mean, so those are like the main type skull
I think you'll find today. You might find some other
Maybe they were spraying them with old CTC fire still
that had was a carbon tetrachloride. Yeah, the poison and

stuff we talked about in the last episode, So it
could be there, just like spraying it within you know,
like a blob aside, yeah, or it was just cheap,
right you just in terms of special effects, like you
just grab some fire extinguishers and use them, and you know,
it looks like you're doing stuff to the blob. It's
impressive looking. I don't know. Maybe the blob needs to
breathe air, and by spraying it with fire extinguishers, you're

surrounding it with carbon dioxide, making it hard for it
to breathe. That would makes sense, now, speaking of the
blob an entity that science fiction comes from space, I
was reading about actual fire extinguishers in space, and I
found this rather interesting. I kept coming across articles really
sort of revolving around UH, the year UH and and

that seems to be because that at that time there
were two different sorts of extinguishers that you would find
on the International Space Station. There was there were Russian
water foam extinguished years and then the U and those
were used in the Russian sections, and then in the
U S sections you had carbon dioxide extinguishers. And there
was an effort at the time by NASA to develop

a fine water missed portable fire extinguisher for use on
board the I S S in those American sections. And
this is because there were you know, obvious problems with
using c O two extinguishers on board uh the I
S S. So for starters, it would create an unsafe
breathing environment exasperated by the I S S is uh

emergency breathing equipment's inability to filter c O two. But
then there was another interesting fact that I ran across,
and that's giving the given the unique qualities of low
G fire, gas based extinguishers, they work less well in
space than they do on Earth, so they end up
directing air and oxygen to the fire, providing additional fuel.

Oh that's interesting because yeah, if you've seen fire in
in microgravity environments, it tends to be circular, doesn't rise up,
you know. Yeah. I was looking at some really weird
like thermal imaging, like altered color thermal imaging of like
what um like low G or zero G fire consists of.
And it's it's crazy, it's it's it's a different basically

spherical like yeah, but with this weird um like there's
almost a sense of um a spherical but with this
this uh, this it reminded me of like a an
image of a of a young seed beginning to grow
a plant. It was. It's it's quite interesting, but what

does the fire kind of gather around the fuel source
the way that like when you ring out a wet
towel in in microgravity, the liquid just kind of pools
around the fuel source. Maybe, so that I feel like,
just from my brief research on it earlier, this is
something we could probably do an episode of stuff to
blow your mind on, like the nature of fire and
outer space, like what we know, what we suspect because

it is quite interesting and it is a danger. I
mean it as uh has has posed a danger in
the past. I think there was there was a major
fire on the was the Russian Mirror space station at
one point. So it's it's very much on on the
on the minds of of of individuals that are working
on these stations and planning for the safety of these

stations and uh so. In fact, in after a total
eighteen years of development, the water missed alternative was finally
rolled out on the I S S. So apparently you
will you will find that system on board today. This
has been such a strange journey. Yeah, what a long,

strange trip it's been. Robert, Yeah, it's been all the
way from just stomping fire with your feet, um, pouring
water on it too, going into space, and again using
a misspray of water as the fire. Yeah. So yeah,
this has been This has been a fun one and uh,
certainly I feel like with just fire technology and fire

prevention techno anology, we could easily keep going. We could
choose some other angle of fire based technology and will
inevitably come back to some version of fire based technology
because you really cannot have technology as we we know
it with without the flame. I mean, it is play.
It plays such a central role in the in in
the technological evolution of our species. We carry the fire

and the fire carries us absolutely alright, So we're gonna
go ahead and leave it there. But as always, we'd
love to hear your thoughts. We'd love to hear your recommendations.
What sorts of inventions, what sorts of technologies would you
like to hear us explore on this show. If you
want to check out other episodes of Invention, head on
over to Invention pod dot com. Bat will shoot you

over to the I heart listing for this show. But
you can find this show wherever you get your podcasts
and wherever that happens to be. You know, we don't
care as long as you subscribe, you rate in your review.
Those are the things you can do to help the
show continue to put out content. You're just banks as
always to our excellent audio producer Seth Nicholas Johnson. If

you would like to get in touch with us with
feedback on this episode or any other, to suggest topic
for the future, just to say hello, you can email
us at contact at invention pot dot com. Invention is
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