Apparatus & Equipment, Firefighting, Leadership

The Saga of the Steamer

In the heyday of the steam-driven pumper, 50 manufacturers competed, producing more than 5,000 steam fire apparatus between 1840 and 1912. From the Fire Engineering Vault, “The Saga of the Steamer” (June 1957), traces the development of the classic fire apparatus HERE. At times, it seems that the apparatus produced more smoke than the fires they were fighting, as seen in this 1904 fire scene photo HERE.

The new steam apparatus were viewed with suspicion by some. In 1859, the chief engineer of New York City’s fire department reported that steam fire engines had caused much “agitation.” He questioned their necessity; and whether if they might cause more damage discharging water than the fire would. Moreover, the city’s volunteer fire department is “unequalled. . . .  The introduction of steam fire engines would embarrass seriously the volunteer system.”  

Eventually, they gained widespread acceptance. The Fireman’s Journal  apparatus ads from 1879 HERE and Fire and Water Engineering ads from 1904 HERE feature some of the makes mentioned in the 1957 article. By 1910, although horse-related equipment is still prominently advertised HERE, motor apparatus were on the rise HERE.

By 1922, the editorial “The Disappearance of the Horse,” acknowledged that the horse-drawn steamer’s day had passed HERE. “The patient slave and friend of man” was replaced by the gasoline engine, which not only provided fire apparatus its mobility, but powered the pumps as well, and opened up the possibility for larger and heavier apparatus.   

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