Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/631

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FIRE-PROOF BUILDING CONSTRUCTION.

FIRE-PROOF BUILDING CONSTRUCTION.[1]
By WILLIAM E. WARD.

IF society is indebted to the restless spirit of progress for most of its modern comforts and conveniences, it certainly is not yet a debtor for any methods which guarantee immunity against calamities from fire. While other departments of industry have received the benefits of improvement, the persistent use of combustible material for exposed portions of buildings has limited the intrinsic elements of the art of building construction, and confined improvements only to matters of design.

Incombustible materials are easily obtained, and, for every apparent reason, much better adapted to the purpose. Doubtless, the question of increased cost, both in money and in time required for more thorough construction, may be in a measure responsible for the tardiness in adopting safer methods; and, in addition to greater expenditure, there may have been a want of confidence in the fire-proof methods which have been offered to the public for adoption. The importance of this question induced the writer, in 1871-'72, to make some experiments in a new and special direction, for the purpose of ascertaining whether a practically fire-proof building could be designed and constructed at a comparatively moderate cost.

The incident which led the writer to the invention of iron with béton occurred in England in 1867, when his attention was called to the difficulties of some laborers on a quay, trying to remove cement from their tools. The adhesion of the cement to the iron was so firm that the cleavage generally appeared in the cement rather than between the cement and the iron.

The experiments which followed were confined exclusively to working up the reciprocal value of béton, in combination with iron, in the construction of beams which were designed for supporting floors and roofs made of the same material. In this particular the facts were conclusively developed that the utility of both iron and béton could be greatly increased for building purposes, through a properly adjusted combination of their special physical qualities, and very much greater efficiency be reached through their association than could possibly be realized by the exclusive use of either material, separately, in the same or in equal quantity.

Experience had long ago proved that unprotected iron, associated with combustible materials, is altogether unreliable for building purposes when exposed to a severe fire-test; but it has been demonstrated,

  1. Read at the meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, held in Cleveland, Ohio, June, 1883.