Symbols


Certain images appear repeatedly
on engines over the years...

During his lifetime, George Washington was a famous fireman as well as a general and president. He gave gifts of fire engines to several cities. In the illustration below he is inviting two young affluent men to stop watching and help with the rescue at hand. He saw the fire service as a symbol itself, of the social responsibilities that come with self rule. Roman gods and firemen were favorite figures used to ornament fire engines. George Washington's image has occupied firehouses for all of American history.

 
 
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Fire and Water are themes and images used in fire service decoration. In the colonies, fire wardens walked the streets at night watching for fire. They carried a tall staff with a stylized symbol for fire on top. This staff also made the warden easy to find in the commotion at a fire. Below are two cast iron torch finials that came off a fire house. The calligraphic word FIRE is from a memorial presentation. It looks more like fire than like lettering.

    The eagle on the right was drawn up in the early days of America's founding. It is formal, symmetrical, frontal and static in the tradition of Roman empire and Germanic eagles.
    Within a few short years the artists of the new world were drawing a different bird. The American eagle evolved, artist by artist, into a new version of the old symbol. This bird is in motion, often just taking off or landing. It is active and has an attitude. Back then, this was a noticeably new depiction of an eagle. This bold eagle appeared on many fire engines, badges, helmets, station houses and certificates. Firemen and eagles were both symbols of free individuals with a sense of duty.

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