The lights, the sirens and the cascade of water are all attributes of the modern day fire truck. For both kids and grown ups, the fuss created by a fire truck in action is thrilling beyond belief. The evolution of the fire truck dates back to the 1700s, when the British built pumps to put out fires in Europe as well as the U.S. While today’s modern fire truck appears quite different from its predecessors, many of the features have been around for hundreds of years.
The first hand-pumped fire engine was developed in Philadelphia in the late 18th and early 19th century. This particular style of engine was pulled by hand to a fire. Pump handles, or “brakes,” and standing boards folded up to maneuver through crowded streets. With these extended, twenty or more firefighters could operate the pumps, with several teams working in short shifts. An engine of this size could throw over 100 gallons a minute on a blaze from a distance of 150 feet or more. Firefighters directed streams either from a long nozzle fixed on top or through leather hoses attached to discharges at the sides. The key difference for this engine as opposed to earlier engines was that it was equipped with suction to draw directly from municipal hydrants and cisterns in lieu of being filled with water by buckets.
A hand-pumped fire engine built by Betts, Harlan & Hollingsworth in 1842 is currently on display at The National Museum of American History. Located adjacent to the Conestoga Wagon on the first floor center area, the display is a representation of the courage and civil service provided throughout history by firefighters across the country.
Photo credit: National Museum of American History Blog