Friday, June 26, 2009

In case of fire, grab the hand grenade

Terms for things have a habit of changing from century to century. For example, take this use of "hand grenade", from the years long before World War I:
"During the year the Council supplied a case of Harden's Hand Grenades for fire extinguishing purposes, also additional length of fire hose. In the case of fire breaking out after library hours the hose is fixed ready for use every night, and the gas turned off at the metre. Some short time ago the kitchen chimney caught fire; it was of a trifling nature, the flue being only ten feet high. It was promptly put out by the aid of the baby engine."
(Free Public Library Report to Auckland City Council, 1885)

An explanation comes from this website:
"The late nineteenth century saw other innovations in fire fighting including the chemical fire extinguisher. The first was a glass fire extinguisher, the Harden Hand Grenade Extinguisher. The extinguisher, or grenade, contained carbon tetrachloride, later banned because at high temperatures it emitted a hazardous phosphene gas. The grenade, when tossed into the fire, broke open and released the carbon tetrachloride"
The "baby engine" still has me foxed, at this stage.

Update, 27 June: more on baby engines.


  1. The "baby engine" still has me foxed, at this stage"

    Could it literally have been the smallest appliance in the fire brigade, called out for "little" fires like this?

  2. Could be, given the context. I've found some Papers Past references: I'll see what comes out of them when I put them together now.