Courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization.

From materials to fire escapes to special coatings, many components and systems of buildings ensure their fire resistance. With technological innovation and evolving building codes, the fire safety of individual structures has improved immensely in the last century.

Here, the BTHL chronicles the history of building fire safety components throughout the 20th century.

Modern Fire Protection, Harris Safety Co., New York, 1900
This catalog features portable and fixed fire escapes, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers, as well as testimonials and locations where these products have been installed.

Covert Fire Escape, Covert Fire Escape Co., Troy, N.Y., 1908
The Covert fire escape offered a combination ladder and scaffolding system to allow building occupants to reach safety by scaling the side of a building. The manufacturer advertised that the system “does not disfigure a building” and “it aids the firemen.”

Fire Proof Construction in Terra Cotta Hollow Tile, Dominion Fire Proofing Co., Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1912
The Dominion Fire Proofing Co. manufactured an extensive line of terra cotta tile, which could be used to protect metal structural systems or be used as wall framing. The catalog features installation details, construction photos, and sample projects across Canada.

Standard Spiral Slide Fire Escape, Standard Conveyer Co., St. Paul, Minn., 1924
Exit tests showed that an average of 87 children per minute could exit a school using this spiral fire escape.

“Mecco” Fire-Proof Windows, Moeschl Edwards Corrugating Co., Covington, Ky., 1925
The use of metal frames together with wire glass produced a window that could better contain fire and offer superior fire protection the manufacturer claimed. Building codes soon required these windows for walls adjacent to other buildings or in areas near exterior fire escapes.

Fire Doors and Hardware, Richards-Wilcox Manufacturing Co., Aurora, Ill., 1935
This catalog features fire doors for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Each door featured a record of the door’s fire rating by Underwriters Laboratories.

Wheelock Apparatus, Signal Engineering and Manufacturing Co., New York, 1938
In this catalog, Signal advertised its invention of a continuously ringing signal stroke fire alarm system that would replace conventional bells and horns.

Facts About Fireproofed Wood, Protexol Corp., Kenilworth, N.J., 1939
This trade publication highlights technical details as well as the history of fire-resistant wood. Readers were also offered suggested specifications for the material.

Flamort Fire Retardents, Flamort Chemical Co., San Francisco, 1961
The Flamort Chemical Co. offered a variety of liquid coatings for wood, fabrics, and plastic that improved the fire resistance of these flammable materials.