Duane D. Pearsall

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Duane Darwin Pearsall
Duane D. Pearsall

(1922-03-03)March 3, 1922
DiedApril 11, 2010(2010-04-11) (aged 88)
EducationGeneral Motors Institute, University of Denver
Spouse(s)Marjorie Fewel
Engineering career
InstitutionsPearsall Company, Statitrol Corporation
ProjectsCommercial development of the first battery-powered ionization smoke detector.
AwardsSmall Business Person of the Year (Colorado), National Small Business Person of the Year, Fire Protection Man of the Year, Center for Fire Safety Studies Herrick Drake Commemorative Award

Duane Darwin "Dewey" Pearsall (3 March 1922 – 11 April 2010) was an American entrepreneur best known for developing and marketing the first battery-powered home smoke detector in 1965.


Early life[edit]

Pearsall was born in Pontiac, Michigan on 3 March 1922.[1] He attended high school in Keego Harbor, Michigan and attended General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) from 1940 to 1942.[1] He served in World War II from 1942 to 1945 in the Naval Air Corps, first as a navigator on a submarine patrol and later as a pilot.[2] He also married Marjorie Lee Fewel on July 22, 1944.[3] After the war, he attended the University of Denver and graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree.[1][2] He then served in the Naval Air Reserve at Buckley Field from 1948 to 1954.[2]

Business and engineering career[edit]

Pearsall worked with Honeywell Corporation as a heating and air conditioning sales engineer for seven years before founding the Pearsall Company in 1955.[3] Pearsall founded Statitrol Corporation in Lakewood, Colorado in 1963.[3][4] A few months later[clarification needed] Lyman Blackwell, one of Pearsall's engineers at Statitrol, improvised a test to measure the flow of ions in an airstream discharging from a generator.[5] When a technician, smoking nearby, casually exhaled smoke into the fan inlet of the generator, the ion meter pegged.[5] Pearsall immediately realized that the basic ionization technology of this device could also be used for smoke detection.[5] This accidental discovery was similar to a discovery made by Swiss physicist Walter Jaeger in the late 1930s.[6] In 1965 Pearsall began the long process to develop and market a home smoke detector powered by a battery which could be easily installed and replaced.[7][8] These first units were dubbed "SmokeGard 700,"[9] Pearsall was awarded a design patent for this in 1973,[10] and began mass-producing them in 1975.[8] Shortly afterwards, he began working with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).[3] His work with NFPA would eventually lead to the change of the uniform building codes to require smoke detectors in new construction.[3] Statitrol sold the smoke detector invention to Emerson Electric in 1980.[11]

Pearsall sold Statitrol in 1977.[3] Later into his life Pearsall founded several companies and retired three separate times.[2] He was a spokesman and advocate for American small business, which he considered to be the "backbone of the nation's economy."[1] He travelled to Washington, D.C. numerous times to testify before Congressional committees on small business issues.[1] Pearsall helped found the Small Business Council of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1976, and was chairman of the Colorado Small Business Council in 1979.[1] From 1975 to 1978, he served as a director of the Denver Chamber of Commerce, and from 1982 to 1989, he was a director of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, serving as its chairman from 1985 to 1986.[1] In 1983, Pearsall co-founded Columbine Venture Funds, an organisation specializing in new technology located in Denver.[1]

Later life[edit]

Pearsall and his wife Marge lived in Dillon, Colorado from 2000 to 2007.[1] They moved to Denver in 2007.[1] Pearsall died on 11 April 2010 at his home in Denver.[1][2]

Awards and Legacy[edit]

Pearsall has won several awards and honours for his contributions to fire safety. In 1976, the Small Business Administration named Pearsall as Small Business Person of the Year for Colorado.[1] That same year President Gerald Ford presented him with the National Small Business Person of the Year award.[12] The Society of Fire Protection Engineers recognised him as Fire Protection Man of the Year in 1980.[12] Pearsall was a charter member of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Fire Protection Engineering Board of Advisers and helped create the university's fire protection engineering program, now recognized as one of the leading fire safety study programs in the world.[12] The university has honored him with an honorary doctorate and named him the first recipient of the Center for Fire Safety Studies Herrick Drake Commemorative Award in 1987.[12] In 1996, WPI awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in science[1] and in 2004 presented him with the WPI Presidential Medal.[13]

The Rockies Venture Club, an organization that helps entrepreneurs obtain funding, established the Duane Pearsall Entrepreneurial Award, given at irregular intervals to noteworthy business owners in Colorado.[1] Recipients have included John Elway, Roy Romer, Bill Daniels (posthumously), John Hickenlooper, and Rick Patch.[1]

Pearsall's autobiography, "My Life Unfolded," was written in 2009, but never published.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Duane Pearsall, inventor of smoke detector, dies in Denver". Summit Daily. Summit County, Colorado: Swift Communications, Inc. 15 April 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Duane Pearsall, smoke-detector pioneer, dies at 88". Denver Business Journal. Denver, Colorado: American City Business Journals. 15 April 2010. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Home smoke detector inventor dies". University of Denver Magazine. Denver, Colorado. 5 May 2010. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  4. ^ "How to Protect Your Home From Thieves". Popular Mechanics. Hearst Magazines. 157 (1): 155. January 1982. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Lucht, David A. (1 March 2013). "Where's There's Smoke". NFPA Journal. National Fire Protection Association.
  6. ^ "NRC: Fact Sheet on Smoke Detectors". NRC.gov. United States Nuclear Regulation Commission. 4 September 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  7. ^ Ha, Peter (25 October 2010). "Smoke Detector". Time Magazine. No. ALL-TIME 100 Gadgets. Time, Inc. p. 1. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  8. ^ a b Wallis, Ian (1 November 2013). 50 Best Business Ideas That Changed the World. Jaico Publishing House. ISBN 9788184952841. Retrieved 2014-11-20.
  9. ^ "Voluntary Standards and Accreditation Act of 1977". Act No. S. 825 of 1 March 1977. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  10. ^ Sobey, Ed (1 April 2010). The Way Kitchens Work: The Science Behind the Microwave, Teflon Pan, Garbage Disposal, and More. Chicago Review Press. p. 147. ISBN 9781569762813. Retrieved 2014-11-20.
  11. ^ "STATITROL DIV., Emerson Electric, Lakewood, Colo". Hardware Retailing. National Retail Hardware Association. 139. 1980. Retrieved 2014-11-24.
  12. ^ a b c d "Gordon Library:Recipient Profiles - WPI". Wpi.edu. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 1 April 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  13. ^ Duane Pearsall Collection
  14. ^ Pearsall, Duane D. (2009). My Life Unfolded. Retrieved 22 July 2014.