Smoke Detection History

Cerberus Detector

Man has understood the danger of fire for hundreds of thousands of years.  But, smoke detection systems have only provided protection for the last 150 years or so. Like many aspects of modern life that we take for granted, smoke detection technologies were a convergence of need and opportunity.

  • Historic, tragic fires that took hundreds of lives and caused untold destruction drove scientists and fire officials to find better protection. 

  • Technological improvements over time made the systems more effective and cost-efficient.

  • Building codes, fire safety laws and technology standards assured the tools were adopted and implemented properly.

Smoke Detection Technology Timeline

Tragedy Drives Action

Courtesy of

Lady of Angels School

On the afternoon of December 1, 1958, a small fire started in a trash can in the basement boiler room at Our Lady of Angels School in Chicago.  With no smoke detection or sprinkler system, the small fire grew unabated for an estimated 15-30 minutes.  What could have been a minor incident became an epic tragedy when the fire spread quickly up a stairway to upper floors.  Once notified, fire fighters were on the scene within minutes but there was little they could do. 

A total of 95 children and nuns were killed and 75 more people injured.  The sorrow created by this preventable tragedy prompted research into new smoke detection technologies and laws that have saved countless lives in the decades since. 

Did this information help you?