Two of the most powerful natural elements on Earth are arguably water and fire. What can stand between these two elements is often simply a tube — that is, a fire hose. Intellectual Ventures has several antique fire nozzles on display at our Bellevue headquarters, and this invention’s unique ability to connect two dominant forces makes it one of IV’s favorites.
We’ve probably all seen the photos in our history books of townspeople passing buckets of water back and forth to douse a house fire. There were few other options for firefighting until Jan van der Heiden and his son Nicholaas invented the first fire hose in 1673. Their hose was 50 feet long, created from leather tubes sewn together, and attached to gooseneck nozzles on engines that pushed through water. However, the Heiden hose and many of the hoses that followed were often heavy, cumbersome, and unstable.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that advances in hoses began to (ahem) catch fire. The Philadelphia Hose Company began using water mains in 1803 to provide water sources closer to potential fires. In 1807, two American firemen banded a hose’s seam using metal rivets instead of traditional stitching, which led to stronger and more durable products with fewer leaks.
In 1821, inventor James Boyd patented his design for a rubber-lined, cotton-webbed fire hose. In 1838, Charles Goodyear discovered that rubber could be converted into a more durable material through the vulcanization process, and shortly afterwards, BF Goodrich created a rubber hose reinforced with cotton ply. More improvements followed, and by the early 1900s, lighter linen hoses were becoming the norm.
Today, hoses are a mix of their predecessors — modern hoses usually include a fabric outer layer that envelops a rubber tube. Whether you favor its lifesaving potential or its duality — both in its structure and in the elements it connects — the fire hose is a powerful invention.