Every day, smoke and heat detectors in homes and businesses do their part to help warn people in time of the present dangers of a fire. We have all grown up with different versions of fire detectors in our homes, and few of us ever gave them too much thought until it is too late. But where exactly did these small plastic alarms begin?

While his colleague, Thomas Edison, was working on the light bulb, Francis Robbins Upton was making huge strides in technology as well. Upton began his career as a mathematician and physicist. Upton was born in Massachusetts in July of 1852. He became the first student to officially earn, by examination, a graduate degree from Princeton University in 1877. Upton then moved to Berlin to study under Hermann von Helmholtz, where he learned Helmholtz’s views on how to analyze electrodynamics in mathematical ways.

In 1876, Thomas Edison had set up his laboratory in New Jersey and was looking for an assistant. Edison knew he wanted someone with good theoretical skills, so he asked Helmholtz who immediately recommended Upton. Upton began helping Edison with mathematical problems associated with his devices. Because he had no formal education, Edison relied on Upton to turn his ideas into possibilities through mathematics. Upton was the key to helping Edison come up with successful models of his ideas, such as the incandescent lamp and the electric light bulb.

In 1890, along with colleague Fernando Dibble, Francis Robbins Upton patented the first automatic electric fire alarm. In its original design, the smoke alarm only contained the battery, a bell-dome thereon, an open circuit with a magnet, and a thermostatic device. In its simplest form, the first smoke alarm would use the thermostatic device to detect abnormal amounts of heat due to smoke or fire. Once it hit the maximum temperature, it would signal the bell to sound. In their patent description, Upton and Dibble said their objective was to “produce an alarm complete in itself, simple in construction, without complicated circuits, and which shall not require constant attention.”

At the beginning, the smoke alarm was not easily attainable due to its high cost. IT was most often found in businesses or in the homes of wealthy people. Over time, however, their popularity grew, and now no home is complete without at least the most basic alarm. Following in Upton’s footsteps, Crossfire Alarms looked to create a product that worked without much fuss and was essential in saving lives. The Crossfire system of smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detectors takes Upton’s model to the next level for the safest, fastest responding detectors on the market.

From simple beginnings to its present state, the smoke alarm has become a staple in every home. With a clear goal to alert people of the event of a fire, Francis Robbins Upton was able to revolutionize the way we view home safety.