History of NFPA

More than 120 years ago, several small groups of people had ideas that they pursued from concept to reality. Their ideas grew into the organization we know today as the National Fire Protection Association

by Casey Cavanaugh Grant, P.E.
Executive Director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation

Water of the sprinklered type | Electricity for the ages | Of palaces and laboratories | 1895: Visions to quench the flames | 1896 and beyond: An association is born | Dream big and dare to fail | The association steps from the cradle | Dreams for a safer tomorrow | Quotations | Bibligraphy  

For the many people around the world with an interest in the activities of the National Fire Protection Association, the year 1996 is genuinely special.  

Turning the calendar from 1995 to 1996 will mark the beginning of NFPA's centennial year. Looking back in history when the NFPA was officially founded, we see that 1896 was a year that is unquestionably a cornerstone in the Association's history. 

Where do we begin when sliding back in time to witness the birth of the NFPA? In the twilight of the 20th century, innovation and invention were propelling civilization to new dimensions. Amidst the struggles of the working class and a population being bolstered by newly arriving immigrants, the late 1890's in North America were a time of change, growth, and opportunity. New technology was erupting everywhere, and it was in the face of great technological advances, or more appropriately the lack of consistency thereof, that a need for standards and a standards writing organization like NFPA began to emerge. 

This is a story that focuses on two essentials of our universe: water and electricity. Although by tradition it is generally considered wise to assure their separation, water and electricity are mixed in this story to tell the tale of NFPA's beginnings, from conception, to first breath, to those initial steps out of the cradle. Of course, the common thread for these strange bedfellows is another essential of our universe: fire. I don't mean the wonderful servant that serves us well, but rather the demonic flames that from time-to-time visit us as the destroyer of our property and assailant of our people. 
Water of the sprinklered type
The forefathers of the NFPA were a visionary breed. In their own unique way, all who were involved played an important role and each deserves their own dedicated story.  If only time and resources would allow such an endeavor! 

Returning in time to the small farming community of West Bridgton, Maine, a young baby boy was given the name of John Ripley Freeman when he entered the world on July 27, 1855. It was amidst these country surroundings that he spent his early years. Eventually, he would venture to Massachusetts Institute of Technology were he graduated from the Department of Civil Engineering in 1876. 

The business world that John Freeman was about to enter after his graduation had all the ups-and-downs of a burgeoning economy, but overall, this was still the post Civil War recovery period, and manufacturing and industry on the North American continent was generally prospering. Yet with this growth and prosperity began to emerge one particular cultural trait of the people of the United States that would directly lead to the eventual need for fire protection standards. In the proverbial land-of-plenty, with its seemingly endless blue skies and inexhaustible resources, the particular American trait of being inherently wasteful matured to a state of being clearly identifiable.  

After finishing his college studies, John Freeman worked with the Essex Company as the principal assistant to Hiram F. Mills, one of the greatest hydraulic engineers of his generation. It was during this apprenticeship that the unlimited energy and vision of Mr. Freeman helped him formulate his deep understanding of the characteristics of water that he would apply throughout his life. Eventually, the achievements during his life on this and other topics would be many, with numerous accolades and notable accomplishments. 

When John Freeman joined the Factory Mutual Inspection Department in 1886, he would spend the next ten years revitalizing the organization's approach to fire protection and put it on a truly scientific basis. During this period, new technology in society was emerging at a phenomenal rate, and ways of controlling loss by fire were among this new technology. The innovation of spraying water on a fire through a pipe with holes had previously been shown to have a profound effect on controlling fires in large mercantile properties. Modern sprinkler technology, as we know it today, was crossing it's threshold into a recognized existence. 

Early sprinkler design from 1800sSprinkler technology was indeed coming of age. In terms of firsts, the first automatic arrangement for carrying water through a system of pipes to protect against fire can be traced back as far as 1806 to John Carey of England. This concept eventually found its way to the shores of North America, and credit for the first sprinkler system to be used in the United States belongs to James Bichens Francis. Francis was responsible for a perforated pipe system installed in 1852 at the Plant of the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts.  

On August 11, 1874, U.S. patent No. 154,076 was obtained by Henry S. Parmelee of New Haven, Connecticut for a sprinkler head, today refered to more simply as a sprinkler. This was a perforated head containing a valve that was held closed against water pressure by a heavy spring made of low fusing material.  Parmelee's invention has even earlier origins, being similar to a device created (though never patented) by Major A. Steward Harrison of the First Engineer London Volunteers in 1864. And the first U.S. patent for a sprinkler system was No. 131,370 issued to Philip W. Pratt of Abington, Massachusetts on September 17, 1872. The system operated by means of a valve to which cords and fuses were attached.  When the cords and fuses melted, the valve opened releasing a stream of water. 

To further exemplify the evolution of sprinkler technology, some early archival information refers to a litany of sprinkler designs, such as the Mackey (1887), the early Grinnells, the Kane (1888), the Neracher (1888), the New York (1889), the Harkness (1890), the Buell (1892), and the National (pre-1900). John Freeman had various tools at his disposal, including a report generated by C. J. H. Woodbury of the Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies in 1884.  Woodbury's report would later be considered the first extensive testing of automatic sprinklers, and evaluated the response times of fifteen different types of sprinklers after undergoing a gradual temperature buildup followed by a sudden immersion in steam.

Henry S. Parmelee
Henry Parmelee 

Frederick Grinnell and his glass disk sprinkler head

Frederic Grinnell
Henry Parmelee's sprinkler was a device that would eventually become a more focused part of John Freeman's world. Parmelee made arrangements with the Providence Steam and Gas Company to install his systems, and from 1878 to 1882, some 200,000 Parmelee sprinklers were installed in mills mostly located throughout New England. The Providence Steam and Gas Company was owned by Frederic Grinnell of Providence, Rhode Island, who was an individual that would become known in his own time as a true pioneer of this technology. The first Grinnell sprinkler was invented in 1882, and Grinnell systems continued to flourish and become widely recognized. History, as the yardstick that those immersed in the present simply cannot appreciate, would later demonstrate that the paths of John Freeman and Frederic Grinnell would cross with notable significance for the NFPA. 

Motivation clearly existed for the underwriters and insurance engineers of that period, such as John Freeman, to pursue the new sprinkler technology. Under the eyes of a government that was only beginning to escape its Laissez faire approach was an industrial world that suffered often from loss and destruction, especially by fire. The attitude of owners seemed to unconsciencously accept disaster, as long as economic recovery could be reasonably assured by insurance or other means. But those who sold insurance could not realistically continue to accept these losses. Something needed to be done.

Electricity for the ages
"God said, 'Let there be light.'  And light appeared."1 From the beginning of time, this quest for light has been a part of mankind's inner resolve to exist in this universe. 

One individual who would have a significant impact on this inner quest and who today is a household name in American folklore was Thomas Alva Edison. Born in the village of Milan, Ohio on February 11, 1847, his family eventually moved and settled in Port Huron, Michigan. Edison had only 3 months of formal schooling when at the age of seven he was subsequently tutored by his mother. 

At the age of fifteen, Edison had become the manager of a telegraph office associated with the local railroad. This experience led to his first display of inventive talents: the transmitter and receiver for the automatic telegraph. When he was twenty-one, Edison's first major invention was a stock ticker for printing stock-exchange quotations in brokers' offices. With the $40,000 that he was paid for the ticker improvements, he established a manufacturing shop and a small laboratory in Newark, New Jersey that eventually moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey. 

As a truly revolutionary creation, providing light without depending on the cosmos was answered when Thomas Edison patented the first commercially practical incandescent lamp in 1879.  Mr. Edison was also one of the earliest pioneers of electrical safety.  In Transaction Paper No. 1 of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Edison indicated his concern for safety in electrical circuits by specifying wire insulation and fusible elements in circuits to assure protection against destructive overcurrents.  

One of Edison's most noteworthy contributions to the electrical community came in 1882 with the development of the world's first central electric light-power station on Pearl street in New York City.  It's steam driven generators of 900 horsepower provided enough power for 7,200 lamps. Edison founded The Edison Electric Light Company, which eventually merged with other companies in 1892 to form the General Electric Company, one of the largest manufacturers in the world today. 

But these early days of electricity were certainly not without turmoil and disagreement. On a basis that seemed to question his own brilliance, Edison's electrical systems operated on direct current (DC) rather than alternating current (AC), since he believed that alternating current at any practical frequency and voltage constituted a far greater hazard to life and property than direct current. Supporting Edison on this assumption was Lord Kelvin, but opposing him, among others, was George Westinghouse. Westinghouse was impressed by the development of the transformer by Stanley and the induction motor by Tesla, and so concluded that alternating current had great possibilities. The debate on the virtues of the two systems was at times vicious, and included such maneuvering as obtaining local ordinances to restrict the others use.

On a path that was parallel to but somewhat independent of the direct current / alternating current debate, Edison continued on an intensive investigation to determine what could be done to minimize electrical hazards. He proceeded in the company of Dr. Charles F. Brush, Prof. Elihu Thomson, Edward Weston, and others, including C. J. H. Woodbury, Chief Engineer of the Factory Mutual Insurance Companies, who was an individual recognized for his expertise on other than hydraulics, water, and sprinklers. Woodbury indicates in one gathering that in 1881 "... there were 65 installations of electric lighting in the mills insured by the Manufacturers' Mutual Insurance Companies of New England which were followed by 23 fires in six months, presenting a most hazardous and alarming condition of affairs."2 

Of palaces and laboratories
It was at the World's Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) of 1893 held in Chicago that the debate on the direct current / alternating current would reach a critical juncture. To Edison's dismay, Westinghouse had obtained the lighting contract for the Exposition, which would subsequently become one of history's grandest debuts on the virtues of electrical power. Yet besides the direct current / alternating current controversy, this would be a milestone event from another perspective as well. 

In the Exposition's spectacular Palace of Electricity, a frightening criss-cross of untried electrical hook-ups was in close accompaniment with a massive flammable facade of cheap jute fiber and plaster. Insurance people were more than reluctant to risk the great losses predicted, and the deep concerns almost stopped the Exposition. To respond to the concerns being raised, the capital stock fire insurance people in Chicago hired a respected young electrician from Boston to review the extensive electrical wiring and exhibits. This young electrician's name was William Henry Merrill. 

 William Merrill - NFPA president, UL founder
William Merrill
Mr. Merrill reviewed the wiring and the exhibits to assure the presence of proper safeguards, and consequently the necessary fire insurance was extended. Exhibitors who had been on the verge of withdrawing were assured of insurance protection and went ahead with their plans. The Exposition was saved and became a great success, with the virtues of electricity  being clearly demonstrated. As an ironic but painful footnote to the event, a fire during the closing weeks of the Exposition unrelated to the electrical issue took the lives of thirteen Chicago firefighters and is still one of the nation's worst firefighter life loss tragedies. 

Before coming to Chicago for his work on electrical equipment at the Columbian Exposition, William Merrill had conceived the idea of examining and testing such equipment for safety before its release to the public. This was a new technology that was trying to find itself, and there was no lack of confusion among the different approaches taken by the generating companies, manufacturers, and contractors as they conveyed this technology to the public.  

Merrill's work during the Exposition acquainted him with many of the producers of equipment, so when they wrote him for confirmation of the safety of their products, he seized the opportunity. With the backing of the stock fire insurance underwriters and some of the electrical equipment manufacturers, Merrill obtained the necessary support for a testing laboratory. Two assistants were hired by the names of Edward Teall and W. S. Boyd, and in a small test facility established over a fire station at 22nd and Wentworth in the city of Chicago, William Merrill had his vision fulfilled. The year was 1894 when the Underwriters Electrical Bureau was established.  Seven years later, the small laboratory that started over the fire station would step into a bigger world by incorporating and changing their name to Underwriters Laboratories. 

The establishment of Underwriters Laboratories was one of the necessary steps toward a unified approach to handling electrical technology, but from the eyes of Thomas Edison, William Merrill, and others, much work still needed to be done. Most important in this regard and of greatest concern was the evolution of various separate and independent electrical codes.  

In 1890, the National Electric Light Association called a meeting to develop rules that would be universal in scope. Yet other codes were also available from various respected organizations such as the National Board of Fire Underwriters and the Underwriters National Electric Association. One of the earliest sets of installation rules was issued by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters in 1881, this being subsequently adopted by the National Board in 1882. By the end of 1895, there were five distinctly recognized electrical codes in the United States. Consistency was needed in an electrical industry on the verge of blossoming.

1895: Visions to Quench the Flames
For John Freeman, the period from 1895 through 1896 was a period of transition. In 1896 he would step beyond the Factory Mutual Inspection Department to become President of the Manufacturers, Rhode Island and Mechanics Mutual Fire Insurance Companies of Providence, this being an important step in the convergence of organizations in the Factory Mutual System.  

Yet in the year previous to Freeman's appointment, a handful of men, with Freeman included among them, gathered in the Boston office of Everett U. Crosby for exploratory conversations on establishing consistent rules for sprinkler systems. Those who were at this meeting had no way to envision that this meeting would decades later spawn far more than rules for sprinklers. 

Umberto Crosby - NFPA president
Uberto Crosby 
The meeting took place in early 1895 at the Boston office of the Underwriters Bureau of New England. Besides Everett Crosby as host, and Freeman representing the Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies, the other four attendees were Everett's father Uberto C. Crosby, Chairman of the Factory Improvement Committee of the New England Fire Insurance Exchange; W. H. Stratton of the Factory Insurance Association (renamed in later years to Industrial Risk Insurers); Frederick Grinnell of the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company (known today as Grinnell Fire Protection); and F. Eliot Cabot of the Boston Board of Fire Underwriters. 

For those at the meeting, the immediate problem was clearly rooted in the burgeoning success of fire protection sprinklers. With the technology's rising popularity they were being widely installed, but they were being installed inconsistently, and it was fast becoming a plumbers nightmare. Something had to be done. 

The chemistry of this group of men is particularly interesting, and it provides a strong testimonial on how firmly they all believed in the virtues of this method of automatic fire control. It would be not be incorrect to view the operating cultures of the stock fire insurance companies and the mutual fire insurance companies as competitive. Yet here they were, five insurance representatives, some with consistent operating philosophies, but some with operating philosophies that diverged widely, discussing the problems and virtues of sprinkler technology. In their midst was Frederick Grinnell, whose organization had become very active in the manufacture of the components and installation of these systems. Could consensus have had a better model? 

Obviously, there was a lack of consistency among sprinkler installations, as demonstrated by the existence in a hundred mile radius of Boston of nine radically different standards for the size of piping and spacing of sprinklers. While no fixed agenda is recognized as resulting from this meeting, it appears from subsequent events that the stock fire insurance company men were much impressed with what Mr. Grinnell, one of the pioneers in sprinkler manufacturing, had to say about sprinkler performance. It also appears that Freeman's report on the success enjoyed by the Factory Mutuals in underwriting sprinklered buildings using consistent and proven installation rules was just as impressive, if not more so.  

We can only be left with the impression, based on subsequent events, that Uberto Crosby the father, Everett Crosby the son, as well as Mr. Stratton and Mr. Cabot, were left with a strong desire to start working on a single set of consistent rules for fire sprinkler installation.  

Following this initial meeting, another meeting was held with other stock fire underwriters during December, 1895 in New York City.  Based on these two meetings, the momentum was starting to build, not only to create a set of installation rules for sprinkler systems, but also to establish an association of some kind to administer these installation rules. 
1896 and Beyond: An Association is Born
Much like the sprinkler world that was saddled with numerous different standards,  the electrical community also found itself dealing from a deck of available standards. By the end of 1895, there were five different recognized standards in the United States that addressed the safe use of electrical equipment. 

Five different codes meant five different sets of rules for making an electrical installation. This, of course, created significant confusion and controversy. Something had to be done to produce a national code on a national scale.  Yet even at this early point of envisionment, the thought of a national code would start-off based on international dimensions. 

On a quest for solidarity, several national organizations held a meeting in New York on March 18, 1896, and named itself the "Joint Conference of Electrical and Allied Interests", to be chaired by W. J. Hammer.  At this conference the five American Codes, together with the German Code, the Code of the British Board of Trade, and the Phoenix Rules of England, were discussed and referred to a committee with Professor Francis B. Crocker of Columbia University appointed as the chair. 

The committee selected the most suitable criteria from all the various codes, and after printing a draft code, it was sent to 1,200 interested individuals in North America and Europe for comment. The conference met again in May and June of 1897 and established an electrical code that was unanimously approved at the June meeting as the "National Code."  Because it was so fair and broad in its application, it was adopted without delay by the National Board of Fire Underwriters in lieu of its own, and then issued by them as the "National Electrical Code of 1897". And thus, the "NEC" was born. 

Meanwhile, in other quarters, another meeting was held in New York City on March 18 and 19, 1896.  But instead of electricity and fire and electrical safety, the topic was water and fire and sprinklers. Of true significance from this meeting was the release of sprinkler installation rules entitled: "Report of Committee on Automatic Sprinkler Protection".  Eventually becoming "NFPA 13", the committee that created it was chaired by U. C. Crosby, with E. U. Crosby as the secretary, and a membership of Mssrs. Anderson, Bonner, Cabot, Grinnell, and Stratton. Also included as a topic of discussion, and of even greater significance, was the creation of an association to administrate sprinklers. A separate committee was thus appointed to outline the association discussed during the previous year's meetings. 

Everett Crosby - NFPA Secretary
Everett Crosby 
A subsequent meeting was held in New York City on November 6, 1896 at the offices of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters. Eighteen men representing a variety of stock fire insurance organization were present, including Uberto Crosby, Everett Crosby, W. Stratton, and F. Cabot, all of whom were present at the earlier original meeting in March of 1895. The meeting was called to order by Uberto Crosby, and he was subsequently elected as chair of the meeting, while Everett Crosby was elected as secretary. 

Aside from the sprinkler installation rules, the Articles for a new Association were reviewed.  Of the twelve Articles of the Association, Articles 2, 4, 6, 9, and 10 were amended at the meeting, and the entire set was subsequently adopted as amended. Of these, Article No. 1 is worth repeating: "This organization shall be known as the National Fire Protection Association."3  So it was –– and so it is. 

Based on the report of a nominating committee that was quickly assembled for the purpose, the original officers were elected as follows: President – C.C. Little, Chair of Underwriters Bureau of Middle and Southern States; Vice President – S.F. Lawton, Inspector for the South-Eastern Tariff Association; Secretary and Treasurer – E.U. Crosby, Manager of Underwriters Bureau of New England; and Chair of the Executive Committee – U.C. Crosby, Chair of the Factory Improvement Committee of the New England Insurance Exchange.
Dream big, and dare to fail
 C.C. Little - NFPA president
C.C. Little

Charles A. Hexamer - NFPA vice president

Charles Hexamer
Mr. C. C. Little, the Associations first president, had been elected to his position of prominence in absentia. His organization was represented at the November 6, 1896 meeting by William A. Stoney, and it had been agreed among all present that Mr. Little would be the right choice for president. This was certainly a complement of respect by his fellow business associates.

But it would not be long before the Association would experience its first tribulation during its fragile existence. Mr. Little had been experiencing health problems, and it was getting the better of him.  Several months after being elected President of the Association, and without having the chance to provide any meaningful participation, President Little passed away. 

The positions of the officers of the Association were thus reshuffled. At the First Annual Meeting of the NFPA on May 18 & 19, 1897 in New York City, Uberto Crosby was named President, Charles A. Hexamer of the Philadelphia Fire Underwriters Association was named Vice President, Everett Crosby became the Secretary-Treasurer, and W. H. Stratton of the Factory Insurance Association was named Chair of the Executive Committee.  Of particular note is a portion of Uberto Crosby's report to the Association at the 1897 meeting that outlines the principles still followed by NFPA Technical Committees today:

"To bring together the experience of different sections and different bodies of underwriters, to come to a mutual understanding, and, if possible, an agreement on general principles governing fire protection, to harmonize and adjust our differences so that we may go before the public with uniform rules and conditions which may appeal to their judgment is the object of this Association."

The organizations involved in the affairs the Association today include most of the organizations that were active in 1896 and 1897, although, of course, some organization names have changed through the years based on mergers and realignments.  It is interesting to review the original association members, and for sake of discussion, the twenty original members of the National Fire Protection Association were:

  • New York Board of Fire Underwriters
  • South-Eastern Tariff Association
  • Boston Board of Fire Underwriters
  • Underwriters Association of the Middle Department
  • Philadelphia Fire Underwriters Association
  • Suburban Underwriters Association
  • Insurance Association of Providence
  • Board of Underwriters Allegheny County
  • Underwriters Bureau Middle & Southern States
  • Middle States Inspection Bureau
  • New Hampshire Board of Fire Underwriters
  • Western Factory Insurance Association
  • Improved Risk Commission, Chicago
  • Underwriters Bureau of New England
  • Chicago Underwriters Association
  • Factory Insurance Association
  • Cleveland Board of Underwriters
  • New England Insurance Exchange
  • St. Louis Board of Underwriters
  • Canadian Fire Underwriters Association

In this story of the birth of the NFPA, we have followed the trail of several individuals through a composite mixture of fire, water, and electricity. It is with some interest that we note the second of the twelve articles for this new association: "Membership shall consist of Stock Fire Insurance Organizations, and representatives of such organizations, having charge of the improvement and inspection of risks."5  And so it was that in the earliest days of the NFPA, membership was limited to Stock Fire Insurance Organizations, and thus individuals like John Freeman, Thomas Edison, and Frederic Grinnell were seemingly restricted. 

Yet the momentum of the new NFPA, as it was soon called, would soon be a magnet to others not eligible for active membership. Known as Associate Members, they would number more than one hundred by 1902. Since the Articles of the Association clearly indicated this limitation of membership, it is interesting to wonder what transpired behind the scenes to allow Associate Memberships. The honor of being the first non-insurance members of the Association belongs to the railroad industry, and that industry remains an important segment of our membership today. The first three Associate members were B. S. Mace of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Stewart MacDonald of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and R. H. Newbern of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 
The association steps from the cradle
In 1900, two developments occurred of notable importance. First, the National Board of Fire Underwriters (now the American Insurance Association) became a member of the Association, and furthermore the NBFU voted: "to adopt the standards formulated by the National Fire Protection Association, and assume the expense of publishing the same in suitable form, and further, that matters relative to protective measures be referred to NFPA for investigation and report to the Executive Committee of the Board." This publishing relationship would continue for a number of decades henceforth. 

The other occurrence in 1900 was the membership of William H. Merrill of the Underwriters Bureau of Fire Protection Engineering, which was previously the Underwriters Electrical Bureau, and would soon be renamed Underwriters Laboratories. Whereas Underwriters Laboratories focused on testing, the NFPA focused on codes and standards, and the strong relationship enjoyed at the turn of the century continues today. The involvement  of Mr. Merrill was more than just as a member. He would serve the Association as its Secretary-Treasurer from 1903 to 1908, and as President from 1910 to 1911. 

Despite the term "National" in NFPA always seeming to imply the lack of international involvement, the first overseas members joined the Association in 1903. They were John Smith of the Sun Insurance office in London, and George Smith from an insurance office in Sydney, Australia. They were soon followed by Nicolas Sergowsky, an insurance engineer in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as a growing list of others who were awakening to the virtues of the organization. 

In its history, the NFPA was about to reach the proverbial "path-less-traveled" in the eighth year of its existence, and a critical change would occur regarding membership. With the considerable interest expressed by non-insurance groups toward the Association, the Articles of the Association addressing membership were revised in 1904 at the Eighth Annual Meeting.  At the time, the active membership was comprised of 38 stock fire insurance boards, and 417 individuals, most of whom were related to the stock fire insurance organizations. 

The resulting changes in the rules for membership opened up the NFPA to numerous groups. The first organizations to join in 1904 as active members under the new rules were the Associated Factory Mutual Insurance Companies, the Factory Mutual Laboratories, and the National Electrical Contractors Association of the United States. They were soon followed by the American Water Works Association, the International Association of Fire Engineers (Fire Chiefs), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Institute of Architects. With regard to individuals joining in 1904, Russell Grinnell and a variety of other sprinkler manufacturers and installers would join, as well as Captain J. S. Sewell of the Corps of Engineers in Washington, DC, who appears to be the first Federal Government representative. The first fire department officer was Battalion Chief W. T. Beggin of the New York City Fire Department, who joined NFPA in March, 1905. In the same month, H. D. Davis, the State Fire Marshal of Ohio, joined as the first State Fire Marshal.

We started this story of the birth of NFPA based on the excursions of several individuals and their involvement with water, electricity and fire. If we allow this story to follow its own circle, much like the circle of life, it would be inappropriate to conclude without acknowledging two other events in the history of NFPA.  First, one of the individuals who was involved in the Associations conception and who has been under the random spotlight of the story on these pages, would become a member when the opportunity finally presented itself. In January, 1907, John R. Freeman, President of the Manufacturers Mutual Fire Insurance Company, became a member of the National Fire Protection Association.

The other event that has become a part of this story pertains to the National Electrical Code. The organization that had established the code in 1896 and 1897 was inherently wise enough to recognize its own limitations. The "National Conference on Standard Electrical Rules" still administered the document, but the pioneering work for which they were created was finished, and the diversified opinions of insurance companies, manufacturers, and electrical organizations were relatively stable. When the National Conference on Standard Electrical Rules met on March 24, 1911, they indicated that their purpose had been achieved, and it was thus dissolved. At this point in time, the work of periodically revising the National Electrical Code was transferred to the Electrical Committee of the National Fire Protection Association.

Dreams for a safer tomorrow

In their own unique way, all who were involved in the birth of NFPA played an important role and each deserves their own dedicated story. But as was stated earlier, the stories are endless, but the pages and the ink are not.

How can we ever pay the proper homage to all the visionaries that worked to create the NFPA? For instance, the NFPA owes a great deal of its solid foundation to the Crosbys, father and son. Uberto C. Crosby served as chair of the Executive Committee during 1896 and 1897, and as second President from 1897 to 1900. Everett Crosby was the Association's first Secretary, serving from 1896 to 1903, and chair of the Executive Committee from 1903 to 1907. Both were involved in the small meeting in March of 1895 when the first seedlings of our Association were sown. The similarities are striking when compared on a grander scale with the second and sixth Presidents of the United States, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. What a strange quirk of fate that NFPA Headquarters resides on a portion of the Adams' original farmland in Quincy, Massachusetts.

From the humblest of beginnings to the noblest of causes, the mission of the NFPA today, much like in its earliest days, is to reduce the burden of fire and related hazards on the quality of life. 

Our mission today is accomplished by advocating scientifically-based consensus codes and standards, research, and education for fire and related safety issues. NFPA's National Fire Codes are developed by technical committees staffed by over 5,000 volunteers, and are adopted and enforced throughout the world. NFPA functions as a nonprofit membership organization with more than 65,000 members from around the globe, all working together to fulfill the Association's mission. 

Today the NFPA is strong and ready for the future. Many other important documents have risen from the pain and suffering of innumerable fires to join NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems and NFPA 70, National Electrical Code.  As voyagers in time on a journey not yet completed, we must all work together throughout the world to continue with the NFPA as the premier organization for reducing the burden of fire and related hazards. 

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  2. Coggeshall, Allen, "50 Years of the National Electrical Code", Qualified Contractor, 12/1946, pg 3.
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  3. Maybee, Walter, "Historical Notes", NFPA, Quincy, MA, 10/94.
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  6. "A Partial record of the Transactions at Second Annual Meeting Held in Chicago, June 7th, 8th and 9th, 1898", NFPA, Quincy, MA, 1898.
  7. "A Partial record of the Transactions at the Third Annual Meeting Held in Boston, June 13th, 14th and 15th, 1899", NFPA, Quincy, MA, 1899.
  8. "A Partial record of the Transactions at the Fourth Annual Meeting Held in New York, June 26th, 27th and 28th, 1900", NFPA, Quincy, MA, 1900.
  9. Lockwood, T.D. "Practical Information for Telephonists" W.J.Johnston, 1882.
  10. Brandon, Merwin M., "The National Electrical Code and Free Enterprise (A History)", NFPA, Quincy, MA, 1971.
  11. Henshaw, Wm. W. (Secretary), "Standard for Electric Light Wires, Lamps, Etc.", New York Board Fire Underwriters, NY, NY, Oct. 19, 1881.
  12. Horn, Leonard, "Way Back When: A Bicentennial Special", Lab Data, UL, Northbrook, IL, Spring 1976.
  13. Coggeshall, Allen, "50 Years of the National Electrical Code", Qualified Contractor, 12/1946.
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