The First Chemical Fire Engine In The U.S.
In 1864 Dr. Frederick Carlier of Paris, France, invented the soda-acid principle for extinguishing fires. He sent this very engine to the United States in 1870 to obtain a U.S. patent and to become the prototype for all chemical fire engines manufactured in America.
This information has been documented for us by Dr. M. W. Goodman, a fire historian and patent expert, as he did the research for his book, "Inventing The American Fire Engine." The original patent tag is on the inside of the tool box lid.
The engine was acquired from the now closed Lehigh Valley Fire Museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the curator of which had no idea that it was the first chemical engine in America.
1922 Model T Ford American La France Chemical Fire Engine
The foremost builder of fire apparatus in the 1900's, American La France of Elmira, New York, mounted two chemical tanks on this Ford Model T chassis. The Ford was simply a conveyance to carry the chemical tanks to the fire. It was purchased by the town of Hilltop, Pennsylvania, which is now part of the city of Johnstown, site of the famous flood. The origin of the engine was traced for us by American La France historian John Peckham.
The engine was acquired from an antique automobile fancier in St. Louis who lost his job and sold his collection.
American LaFrance Hand Drawn Chemical Engine
This single horizontal tank, two-wheeled chemical engine was manufactured by American LaFrance in 1900. Engines of this type were found in villages throughout America in the late 1800's and early 1900's. If the run to the fire was short and level, two men could pull it. If not, the drag ropes on the reels were pulled out, and many willing hands pulled the engine.
Note the pair of brass Dietz Fire King lanterns, which were standard equipment, as well as an axe and a prybar. The two cylinders with brass lids at the rear of the engine contained extra charges of sulphuric acid.
This engine was acquired in southeastern Pennsylvania and was restored by a vocational high school class as their project for the semester.
Single Horizontal Tank Hand Drawn Chemical Engine
This engine, built about 1900, is unusual in that it is made of brass and copper rather than the steel in common use. Thus, we can assume that it was built as a showpiece as well as for fighting fires. Even the hose reel is solid brass. It was acquired from the lobby of an insurance company which went out of business in upstate New York.
New England Hand Engine
Note the 1-3/4" copper-riveted leather hose on the reel. This engine was acquired from a collector in California.
This small hand engine was manufactured in 1828 by an unknown builder, and served Everett, Massachusetts. It was operated by four men on the pump handles, which were called "brakes." Engines of this type were often referred to as "hand tubs."
The "Ottawa" Steam Fire Engine
This steamer, manufactured in 1912 by the Waterous Company, which still makes fire pumps today, is rated at 800 gallons per minute with its two vertical pistons. It weighs 10,800 pounds, and three horses were required to pull it. It served the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada as their Engine No.4 in first line service for eight years, when it was replaced by a motorized engine and placed in reserve. It fought the Ottawa City Hall fire in 1931, and was sold in 1935 for a mere one hundred dollars.
1875 Village Size Steam Fire Engine
G.R. Sherman, a wealthy resident of Port Henry, New York, purchased this small steamer for his home town in 1875. Just one year later it saved the town from destruction when the hotel caught fire during a blizzard, and the fire threatened to spread throughout Port Henry.
The engine has a single horizontal piston, and is rated at 500 gallons per minute. It was manufactured by the Clapp & Jones Co. of Hudson, New York.
The large tank on the back is actually a coal-fired boiler, which generates steam to drive the piston pump. The inverted pear-shaped dome on the front of the engine is an air chamber to eliminate the pulsations of the piston so that a steady stream of water comes out of the nozzle instead of a spurt - spurt - spurt as the piston moves back and forth. The engine could be either pulled by a single horse, or could be hand drawn.
This engine was acquired from an antique dealer in Florida who tried to restore it but gave up. The 14 month restoration was completed by Andy Swift at Firefly Restorations in Hope, Maine. Note the incredible workmanship that went into constructing this engine.
1927 Ahrens- Fox
Ask any fire museum curator what the two most desirable pieces of vintage fire apparatus are, and the answer will be a steamer and an Ahrens-Fox pumper. Ahrens-Foxes were manufactured in Cincinnati and were the "Rolls-Royce" of motorized fire engines the most powerful, rugged, dependable, and expensive fire trucks that money could buy. They are characterized by a piston pump mounted in front of the engine with a spherical chrome-plated air chamber on top.
Button Hand Engine
This is the big one, requiring 40 men to pump it at its full capacity of about 300 gallons per minute. They would sometimes pump as fast as 120 strokes per minute, which was exhausting work, and they had to be replaced by a fresh crew of men every few minutes.
The engine was built in 1855 rather than the date of 1796 shown on the side of the tank, which was the date the fire company was organized that purchased the engine. It was manufactured by the L. Button Company of Waterford, New York, and given their serial number 378. If, in 1855, you wanted to purchase the most powerful fire engine that money could buy, this is the engine you would get. Steamers, invented in 1852, were still not readily available.
Although most large hand engines like this one were replaced by steamers in the 1860's through the 1880's, a few were still in service well into the 1900's.
The picture below shows this engine in service with its original owners, the fire department of Easthampton, Massachusetts. The engine was originally named "Mahan" for a river which flowed through the town.
Wm. Penn Hose Co. No. 18 Parade Hose Carriage
This carriage has a rich history and was for years a featured exhibit at the Home Insurance Company Firefighters Museum in New York City. Philadelphia's Wm. Penn Hose Co. No. 18 was organized in 1830, and this was their working hose carriage. The company of volunteers disbanded as a firefighting unit in 1871 when the paid fire department took over. However, the group continued as a social organization, and in 1901 their Ladies Auxiliary had the carriage completely restored and reconfigured into a parade hose carriage with the addition of bells, shields, lamps, a feather plume, and mirrors on the reel. The carriage is exhibited in our museum just as it was restored a century ago. The Fire Chief standing on the front of the carriage is wearing his original parade helmet, shirt, and leather belt. These items are not reproductions, but are original, and were each found by our curator in different locations and reunited in our museum. This carriage was purchased from a motion picture producer in New York City.
1870 Parade Hose Carriage
This elegant hose carriage likely never went to a fire, since it was built to be shown off at parades and social events. Note the original beveled glass mirrors on the reel. Volunteer fire companies were very competitive during the 1800's, and sometimes commissioned an engine or hose carriage to be built just for show. This carriage was built by the famous Hunneman Company of Massachusetts. Its founder, William C. Hunneman, was an apprentice of Paul Revere. It has copper-riveted leather hose on the reel, which was the type of fire hose in use during the 1800's. This carriage came from the collection of Halbert Fillinger, Sr., a world famous forensic pathologist from Pennsylvania, who was featured in the Readers Digest. Restoration was by the Amish of southeastern Pennsylvania.
The "Kearsarge" Colonial Hand Engine
This little colonial hand engine is not only the oldest engine in our museum - it is one of the oldest fire engines in any museum in the United States. It is almost two and a half centuries old! Built by John Krest in London, England, in 1756, it was sent across the Atlantic Ocean to protect the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where it was named "Kearsarge" for the nearby Kearsarge mountain range. Every firefighting historian has the dream of one day finding a long forgotten fire engine stored in a remote barn. That dream came true for Edward Tufts of Salem, Massachusetts, who did just that. He found and restored this engine in 1960. This tiny engine was operated by two men - one on each end of the handle, but a bucket brigade using leather buckets was required to keep the tank full. When Mr. Tufts consigned this engine to an auction, our museum was the successful bidder.
Merryweather Hand Engine
This engine, manufactured by the Merryweather Company of London, England, in 1838, required 12 men to pump it at full capacity. It was shipped from London to the island of Jamaica in the West Indies, where it remained in active firefighting service for well over a century - until 1957! This is one of only two such engines on display in the United States. The other one is at the Hall Of Flame in Phoenix, Arizona, which is the largest fire museum in the world. This engine was acquired from the now closed Lehigh Valley Fire Museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
1930 REO/Boyer Pumper
This engine is running and has been in recent parades.