“The Richmond Chemical Fire Extinguisher,” manufactured by the Richmond Chemical Company, Silver Spring, Maryland, probably in the  early 20th century. It is a metal tube, 22 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, with a metal ring on the top end. The directions for use are printed on the tube: “Hang on Strong Hook [when not in use]. Pull Down Quickly Thus Opening the Tube. Hurl the Powder Forcibly With Sweeping Motion Into Base of Flames. NEVER SPRINKLE. For Flue Fires: Throw a Few Handfuls Up Any Opening Below the Fire. HARMLESS to Person and Fabric.”

This is a tubular dry-powder fire extinguisher. A number of fire extinguishers were invented over the centuries, using compressed air, water, gasses, chemicals or a combination thereof. (I hate to do this, but I’m going to link to the wikipedia page, rather than attempt to summarize the many different types of antique fire extinguishers myself.) In the late 19th century the glass “fire grenade” was a popular choice for home and business, but some varieties were filled with poisonous vapors. The dry-powder extinguisher was a (presumably) less dangerous option. An 1886 advertisement for a British “dry powder tube” extinguisher extolls the wonders of this new discovery; the directions for use are almost identical to our American extinguisher here.

However, I’ve been able to find little else about this particular style of extinguisher in my research so far. I’ve also found almost nothing about the Richmond Chemical Company of Silver Spring. It appears to be in Richmond, Virginia [sensibly enough] in 1897; it is in Silver Spring by 1937, when the company placed a want ad – looking for “experienced salesmen for a real money making article” – in the February and March issues of Popular Mechanics. However, no company by that name appears in the 1949 phone book (although there are four other companies listed under “Chemicals,” two in Washington and two in Prince George’s County). I’ve had no luck, so far, with references to the company between 1897 and 1937. Annoyingly, there are no patent dates on the can (and a quick search of Google Patents found nothing similar to this item); the only extra bit of information is a tiny label telling me that the American Can Company made the metal tube. There have been many “American Can Companies” over time, but perhaps ours was made by the one in the Canton area of Baltimore, which adopted the American Can name in 1901.

We purchased this item on eBay, which as mentioned in the fishing game post has its limitations; we can’t ask the donor for additional information or history. This is one of those items that requires occasional poking around in spare moments, and I can always use suggestions for new poking-around resources. Any readers have insight into either this type of fire extinguisher, or the Richmond Chemical Company’s history in Silver Spring?

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