The Kern River Valley Historical Society has been in operation for over 40 years. Our mission is to preserve and communicate the rich and colorful history of this region. To achieve these goals we have established the Kern Valley Museum in downtown Kernville next to the Post Office.
We’ve Got Fire Grenades

I’ve been on a mission this year to point out interesting items...

at the museum that often get overlooked by our visitors and docents. One such item is our display of glass fire grenades. The fire grenades are located in a cabinet, around the corner from the Jacob’s Ladder. They are near the floor, so maybe that is one reason they scarcely get noticed. People don’t like to look up or down. They look like glass balls.

So, what were they used for? The fire grenades were used to put out fires, not make fires like their name implies. They were manufactured between 1870 and 1910. Pre fire extinguishers, I guess. They were simple to use. If you had a house fire, you’d grab one and throw it at the fire. Its thin glass shell would break releasing all the carbon tetrachloride liquid all over the fire. This would deprive the fire of oxygen, thus putting out the fire.

Today, we know that carbon tetrachloride is nasty stuff. It damages the lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain. But hey! It put out the fire. Usually the fire grenade was mounted on a wall, often near the kitchen stove. Sometimes they were mounted upside down right above the kitchen stove. This type of fire grenade had a wax plug at its opening. A stove fire would melt the plug and the liquid would run out all over the stove. Hopefully, they didn’t eat the food after the fire was out!

Glass fire grenades came in all kinds of colors. Red was fairly common. They are very collectable today, hopefully without their contents. I always find it interesting the number of dangerous items that were manufactured around that time period and manufactures hardly ever got sued.


—Ron Anderson



49 Big Blue Road
PO Box 651
Kernville, CA 93238
(760) 376-6683
10 am - 4 pm
Thursday - Sunday

Admission is Free

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New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

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