From 1852 to 1885, perforated pipe systems were used in textile mills throughout New England as a means of fire protection. However, they were not automatic systems, they did not turn on by themselves.
Inventors first began experimenting with automatic sprinklers around 1860. The first automatic sprinkler system was patented by Philip W. Pratt of Abington, MA, in 1872.
Henry S. Parmalee of New Haven, Connecticut is considered the inventor of the first practical automatic sprinkler head. Parmalee improved upon the Pratt patent and created a better sprinkler system. In 1874, he installed his fire sprinkler system into the piano factory that he owned.
Until the 1940s, sprinklers were installed almost exclusively for the protection of commercial buildings, whose owners were generally able to recoup their expenses with savings in insurance costs.
Over the years, fire sprinklers have become mandatory safety equipment, and are required by building codes to be placed in hospitals, schools, hotels and other public buildings.