Question from Frankie del Fuego:
Hello Geek!
I was wondering if you could figure out when the first fire grenades were patented in the US? I saw some on an antiques show the other night – little glass ‘bombs’ that contain a chemical to help put out fires.
Also, could you tell me where the idea came from? That is, were we the first ones to make these things or is it an older idea?
Thanks a million!
-Frankie del Fuego

Fire grenades were small glass bottles filled with salt water or carbon-tetrachloride and sealed with a cork and cement. These bottles were meant to be thrown into a small room or area at the base of the fire. The glass bottle would then hopefully break and then the contents would put out the fire. When the grenade was filled with carbon tetrachloride, the contents would vaporize immediately into immense volumes of fire extinguishing gas in which combustion can not possibly exist.

Fire grenades were developed around 1860 and they were in use until about 1910 when they were replaced with extinguishers closer to what we use now. The first United States patent for a fire grenade was issued to Samuel B. Johnson on August 8, 1871. He received Patent #117,891 for an improvement in fire-extinguishers. The Harden “Star” Hand Grenade Fire Extinguisher was the most popular brand of extinguisher.

Today the colorful bottles with ornate designs are popular with collectors. They are rare since the bottle was meant to be destroyed. Fire grenades is good condition can be worth upwards of $2,000.

View the patent here.

Question from Michael.:
When did Li Tian die?

Hi Michael –

I’m assuming you mean Li Tian, the monk who is most widely credited as the inventor of fireworks. I have to admit, you almost had me stumped on this one, but again, perseverance (or should I say need-to-know stubbornness) prevailed!

Some deeper research into the invention of fireworks led me to discover Li Tian, the inventor of fireworks, apparently lived from 601 AD to 690 AD. This was during the reign of Emperor Taizong (Li Shimin), first emperor of the Tang Dynasty. As the most popular legend goes, the Emperor’s prime minister had been haunted by the ghost of an evil dragon and Li Tian’s fireworks helped scare away the evil spirit.

What’s really interesting to me is the fact that these dates contradict some widely circulated information that Li Tian unveiled his invention during the Song Dynasty in the 10th century. But, knowing the legend includes the Emperor Taizong, and having historical record of his reign during the early half of the 7th century (he ruled from 621 until his death in 649 AD ), we know this simply cannot be true.

My best guess is the confusion comes from the fact that a temple in Li Tian’s honor was built in his home region during the Song Dynasty and somewhere along the lines this was mistranslated into being the time that he also lived.

More research into Li Tian’s hometown, the temple, and a local fireworks museum helped me confirm the facts. In the process, I also confirmed that April 18, a day where offerings are made to Li Tian and fireworks are set off in his honor, is purported to be the clever monk’s birthday.

Cheers to you, Michael! This was a tough one but it got me digging deeper into both the legend and the truth about fireworks!

Great question, hope you enjoyed the answer as much as I enjoyed seeking it out!


Ask the Geek, Get a Free Patent Mug

That’s right, if your question is chosen to be featured in our weekly “Invention Geek” column, we’ll send you a free one-of-a-kind patent mug custom pressed with a picture from your invention and the title of Honorary Invention Geek.

Got a pressing question about innovation history? Jump over to Ask the Invention Geek for details & an easy entry form!

I get this question all the time. Sometimes the question is what is a patent plaque, other times it’s what is a patent award. In short it is an award plaque given to a company or inventor which displays their patent.

Patent plaques and patent awards come in many styles and material options. Some are hung on the wall while others stand on a desk or shelf. We even have done complete recognition walls for our corporate clients. The recognition wall consists of glass or acrylic panels attached to wire or metal post by a unique hardware display system. The glass and acrylic panels are typically imprinted with the patent number, inventors name, abstract and drawing. All panels are customizable to meet the client’s requirements.

Another question which I hear is “can I have a patent award made from my foreign patent?” The answer is yes. We have produced patent plaques and awards for numerous countries including Mexico, Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, China, Korea, Japan and many more. Whether it’s a United States patent, World patent, European patent or a patent from any country a patent plaque can be produced.

For further information please feel free to contact Kevin Williams at 1-800-932-1662 x 104 or