Rockwell Sprinkler Company

Howard Freeman '40, left, and George Rockwell, Class of 1899

Ask the Archivist: Rockwood Sprinkler Company

When it was acquired by Gamewell Company in 1930, the Rockwood Sprinkler Company of Worcester employed more than 325 individuals with annual sales of $1.5 million (about $25 million in today’s dollars) as it dominated the automatic sprinkler market throughout the Northeast and Canada. 

Located in the industrial heart of Worcester, the company was responsible for saving countless mill and factory workers during an era of rapid industrialization. Its founder, George Ichabod Rockwood, graduated from WPI in 1888 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was first employed as a draughtsman at the Wheelock Engine Company before beginning work as an independent mill engineer in 1893. By 1905, he had patented an automatic fire-suppression system he named the Rockwood Sprinkler System.

In 1906, his factory opened on Harlow Street and began to supply life-saving equipment to the many industrial interests of the region. The Rockwood Sprinkler System was designed to automatically begin feeding overhead water to a space whenever a fire developed past a certain temperature.

In World War II, Howard Freeman ’40 developed the “Waterfog” nozzle at the request of the U.S. Navy during World War II while he was employed at Rockwood Sprinkler Company. Freeman’s design, combined with Rockwood’s means of production, is credited with saving the lives of thousands of sailors during World War II and afterward as the nozzles became standard issue on many ocean vessels.

To learn more about WPI’s history of innovative and pioneering work in Fire Protection Engineering, visit “Foundations of Fire Protection Engineering” at or WPI Archives & Special Collections.

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