The Outbreak of Fire: Inventions, Materials, and Knowledge of Combustion in the Eighteenth-Century

The growth of urban density in the eighteenth century went in parallel with the development of artisanal and manufacturing activities, entailing a widespread use of fireplaces, boilers, but also new furnaces working with high temperatures – e.g., in glasswork – that increased the hazards caused by fire. The necessity of managing fire on a daily basis fostered the emergence of new methods and technical processes. By focusing on the nature, the degree of fire, and the types of materials, number of inventions were proposed to act on the outbreak of fire, drawing upon new knowledge of combustion and chemistry. In this paper, I will explore the inventors’ attention towards this specific temporality of fire, namely the crucial moment when a fire started, which stimulated research on prevention strategies, fireproof materials, and fire suppression systems.