Fire extinguisher industry comes to Sedalia

Rhonda Chalfant - Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant

Contributing Columnist

In the early years of the 20th century, some Sedalia houses were piped with carbide gas manufactured at the gas plant at Main Street and Moniteau Avenue. A few homes of the well-to-do and progressive had electric lighting. Some home owners, believing electric lighting to be unreliable, used fixtures with both electric lights and carbide lights. Most homes, however, were still lighted with kerosene lamps.

Most houses still had at least one fireplace. The late 19th century decorating mavens had waxed poetic about the “sentiment of the fireplace” that represented home, and by extension, the happy, secure family. In addition to the fireplace, some homes were heated with coal-fired, gravity flow furnaces. Still others used coal fired boilers to heat water for radiators. Those with less means used coal or wood fired stoves and heated only some rooms of the house. Most cooking, whether in the homes of the wealthy or the poor, was done on coal fired ranges.

These methods of lighting and heating presented the continual risk of fire, and indeed, house fires frequently occurred, especially in winter. The Sedalia Fire Department regularly extinguished blazes that started when clogged flues or spilled kerosene caught fire.

“The necessity for a simple, efficient fire extinguished for household and general use has been the crying demand of the centuries,” noted the Sedalia Democrat in February 1903. The need was being answered by a new Sedalia industry.

The Sedalia Fire Extinguisher and Manufacturing Co. had recently incorporated in Missouri and opened its headquarters in a new brick building at 315 S. Lamine Ave. in Sedalia. The company’s manager, Mr. A. W. Cooley, had come from Holton, Kansas, with his family as the largest stockholder in the company. He was charged with purchasing and installing the equipment and hiring men to make and sell the product. He was also charged with marketing the product throughout the United States.

The Sedalia Fire Extinguisher and Manufacturing Co. produced a dry powder fire extinguisher. The early dry powder extinguisher used tubes of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or powdered chalk. The very small particles of these substances would smother a fire. These fire extinguishers were particularly effective on cooking fires, but could also be used on fires made up of dry combustibles or kerosene. As such, they were very desirable for home use.

The Democrat praised Cooley as having “liberal and varied experience in the manufacture and sale of specialties.” His “enthusiasm and energy” expressed his ability and augured success for the company.

The newspaper also predicted that the company would be a success because of the demand for the product and the history of similar industries in other places.

The Sedalia Fire Extinguisher would “prove of great value to the city,” meaning that it would employ many workers and pay taxes on its property. The Democrat encouraged local residents to patronize the Sedalia Fire Extinguisher Co. in order to encourage the fledgling enterprise.

The company’s success was questionable, however. City Directories of 1903 and 1904 list the company. By 1913, however, the Sedalia Fire Extinguisher and Manufacturing Company is gone from the business listings and Mr. Cooley is missing from the individual listings.

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

Sedalia Democrat

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

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