The following, somewhat lengthy but interesting article, may appeal to those among us who are fascinated by the history of our industry. It gives us a different perspective of the evolution of security from its humble beginnings to today’s “high tech” approach. Undoubtedly in the future, our “state-of-the-art” technology will also seem equally as quaint and outmoded.
“The need for security and the need to sound an alarm when the security has been threatened have always been with us. Early on, man devised methods of warning himself and others of danger. The threat may have come from natural causes such as fire and flood or from an attack by enemies. These warnings were sometimes as crude as drumbeats, the sounding of gongs, or the trumpeting of horns.
As civilization developed, alarm mechanisms became more sophisticated. Smoke signals, colored rockets, or heliographs that used mirrors to flash reflected sunlight messages from one mountaintop to another were often used. The industrial revolution that began in the early 1800's brought masses of people to cities and ushered in the age of technology. In the early 1800's sounding the Fire Alarm was crude. The more advanced cities provided bell ringers stationed in city buildings, towers and church spires to sound an alarm when a fire was spotted.
In 1835, a fire in New York City leveled 700 buildings and caused between 20 and 40 million dollars in property damage. The major cause for this enormous loss was that almost all the warning bells sounded. The fire brigades became confused and many were ineffective in stopping the fire. To correct the problem, New York City officials devised a more reliable system. The city was divided into districts and sub-districts. Each district was served by a fire lookout in a tower. The entire city was supervised by a lookout post in city hall. By 1842 each sub-district was equipped with a distinct bell. This enabled each local fire brigade to recognize its own alarm. These steps improved the system but communications between towers was still difficult.
In 1847 New York City's chief engineer Cornelius Anderson, added the newly developed telegraph to the system. The fire lookout towers were wired to the central lookout post. The telegraph was also wired from the central lookout post to each fire station. This was a tremendous improvement over past practices because a local lookout could immediately report the exact location of a fire to a central lookout post, which in turn could immediately wire that location to the nearest fire station. Those stations, upon receiving the alarm, could in a very short time, be dispatched to the fire.
The Central Monitoring Station concept was improved upon by Dr. W. F. Channing and Moses Farmer in Boston. They developed a “call box” that when pulled sent (telegraphed) the message to the central location. The message included a location code that identified the call box. The code, a series of dots and dashes was generated by a rotating notched code wheel connected to a switch contact in the call box mechanism. When the call box handle was pulled, the wheel would rotate and telegraph a series of location codes to the central location. Boston approved the new technology in 1851. By 1854, Boston had 42 call boxes wired to a Central Monitoring Station. The monitoring panel in the Central Monitoring Station included a crude printout device that inscribed the received location on a piece of paper to produce a visual record of the alarm. The call box system was so successful that New York and many other cities soon adopted it. The call boxes found in most modern Alarm Systems are surprisingly similar to the early Boston boxes. Early Burglar Alarm Systems used trip wire and mousetraps. In June 1853, Augustus Pope of Somerville, Massachusetts was granted a patent for an "Improvement in Electro-magnetic Alarms." Pope's Burglar Alarm was intended for home installation. He used magnetic switches or contacts to protect windows and doors. The switches were wired to a battery and a vibrating bell. The bell was mounted in the homeowner’s bedroom. When any of the switches was closed, the bell would ring. In 1857 Pope sold his patent to Edwin Holmes, a New England businessman who owned a notions and sewing supplies store and was a manufacture of hooped skirts. Holmes invented and developed many of the devices and techniques still in use in the Alarm industry today. When Holmes acquired the patent, he faced a myriad of problems. The first was supplies. At the time, there were no suppliers of electrical wire and equipment. There were, however, a handful of shops that were beginning to manufacture electrical devices. Holmes was fortunate to be located within 1000 feet of one of the first electrical stores in the country, Hinds and Williams, in Boston. The Hinds and Williams store was frequented by the early electrical pioneers such as Moses Farmer and Thomas Watson who were to help Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone.
Holmes befriended Williams, who began to manufacture bells and electro-magnetic contacts for him. Wire was also a problem. The available insulated wire was too thin to handle the current. Holmes used his skirt hoop experience to solve this problem. He had bare copper wire braided with cotton by the same plant that braided his skirt hoops. Holmes devised a mechanism to coat his braid with green paint to complete the insulation covering. Sales were slow in Boston so Holmes moved his new Burglar Alarm business to the more crime ridden New York City area. In New York, Holmes experienced sales resistance because nobody believed he could build an Alarm System that would ring bells on the second floor when a basement window was opened. To break the sales barrier, Holmes constructed a model house, installed a working Alarm System, and went door to door selling Alarm Systems to the wealthiest homeowners in New York. With money pouring in, Holmes was able to make improvements continually to the systems he installed. Annunciators were available with colored tags to indicate the status of each window and door. A clock was added to disable and enable the Alarm System during certain time periods. Switches were added to control the house lights. These innovations are still found in many of the current burglar Alarm Systems.
In the mid-1860's, although the "Central Monitoring Station" concept was well developed in the fire Alarm Systems, it had yet to be utilized in the burglar Alarm industry. The man who introduced the Central Monitoring Station concept to the burglar Alarm industry was E.A. Calahan. In 1871 Calahan conceived a “district messenger service” in which the city of New York would be divided into small areas. Each area would have a call box connected to a Central Monitoring Station that would allow subscribers to call for a messenger. The American District Telegraph Company of New York was organized in 1871 to commercially develop Calahan's inventions. By 1874 American District Telegraph Company was operating 12 Central Monitoring Stations in Manhattan. By 1887 there were as many as 20 companies in cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore. During this time, Holmes was developing his business and developing more elaborate Alarm Systems for both homeowners and business owners. In 1872, Holmes developed an electrically wired cabinet to store jewelry. The cabinet was lined with current carrying foil. The doors of the cabinet were equipped with detector switches. Holmes wired the cabinet to a central office allowing men, on duty twenty-four hours a day, to be dispatched in response to any Alarm Condition.
The Holmes Company constructed a wiring frame on the roof of their building and ran their wires over the roof of their neighbors, often without their permission of knowledge. The Central Monitoring Station was a natural for the newly invented telephone. Thomas Watson, who contributed to the invention of the telephone, worked for Holmes. Holmes' son Edwin T., an early electrical technologist, also added several refinements to the phone. Holmes Central Monitoring Station became the first telephone Customer and the first telephone exchange. Holmes became the first President of the Bell Telephone Company of New York.”