Engine Builders

The first American fire engines
were individual inventions...

American hand engines were an early high point in the industrial revolution. Each engine was custom built for a certain fire company. Slight improvements were added and perfected with each apparatus built.

    The majority of fire engines in America in 1776 were made in London. After the huge London fire of 1666 the city government set up fire brigades across the city. This was a stimulus to engine building in London. Mr. Newsham's design was favored and many were built. Many more were exported. The engines remained the same for decades with only slight changes. They were painted one or two flat colors with no pin-stripes or ornaments.

    Pump technology advanced through the 19th century, especially in Seneca Falls NY, which was home to several fire engine builders. Peter Cooper of Vermont built unique pumps and hired local wagon shops to supply the copper lined wood tank and wheels. To the left is a drawing of "Old Brass Back", the first engine built in New York City. It had polished brass corner brackets, and no other decoration.

    Hand engines could be repaired by a local carriage shop or blacksmith. Steam powered engines required specialists. It took a lot of equipment and engineering to build or repair a steam fire engine. Hand tubs and steam locomotives were both highly ornamented, and steamers took up the tradition with gusto.

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