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Fire Truck History  family photo
Photo provided courtesy of the United States Library of Congress.

Fire Truck History

This horse-drawn fire truck photo was taken in Washington D.C. sometime between 1909 and 1932. Note that three horses were utilized to pull the weight of the fire hose, ladder, and driver. You can't really tell from this photo, but I believe that this design supported a small team of fire fighters towards the back of the carriage.

The first fire engines were water pumps on wheels which men would manually push/pull to the emergency. Obviously, while inventive, this had major downfalls - including having very tired firemen! Once the firemen arrived at the fire, they would have to rest to catch their breath and prepare to fight the fire.

Fire fighting was initially a fully volunteer organization. During the mid 1800's, paid firefighters were introduced and were given budgets where they could afford advancements in technology. Obviously, horses were heavily utilized and were initially used to transport ONLY the fire pumps. While this got the fire pump to the fire earlier, it did not solve the issues with transporting the firemen to the emergency.

Over the years different solutions were tested, including steam powered fire engines that were introduced in the United Sates in New York 1841. However, steam powered fire trucks were not not quickly adapted given the unreliability and dangerous of steam. Therefore, most fire departments continued to utilize horses, including adding more horse power to allow firemen to also be carried on the fire truck.

By the 1920s and 1930s the introduction of motorized fire trucks quickly began to replace all horse drawn fire trucks.
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[D.C. Washington. Fire Department activities: horse-drawn hook & ladder truck leaving firehouse (folder 438)]
1 photographic print.
  • Title and other information transcribed from unverified, old caption card data and item.
  • National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress).
  • Caption card tracings: Shelf.
  • National Photo Company Collection
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