As summer heats up, we’d like to take the opportunity to dive into the history of the fire truck. Though it’s hard to imagine a time without it, this modern wonder dates back just 300 years. Richard Newsham first filed for a patent on the design in 1721, then again in 1725. Since then, the fire truck has undergone some structural and aesthetic changes.
Where Did it Begin?
The first fire truck rolled onto the scene in England in the 18th century. It had two single-acting pistons that drew water from a tank. It could launch that water at an extremely high pressure and held about 170 gallons of water total. This design could also pump that water at 100 gallons per minute.
Newsham painted his “fire truck” red, a color that clearly stuck. But the truck started out as more of a cart. The cart was small enough for Newsham to move around on his own. It helped to replace the “Bucket Brigade” model, which suggested all townspeople keep a bucket of water by their door in case of emergency.
This man-powered cart appeared in New York in 1731. Over the next ninety years, the design evolved and got heavier as it went. Eventually, officials began using horses to pull their fire buggies along. But the animals often became spooked at the flames, making the system complicated and sometimes ineffective. Thankfully, in 1829, a Swedish-American inventor paired the fire truck design with fire and steam, creating the first “fire engine.”
History of the Fire Truck: Moving Forward
The fire engine is so-named due to the fact that it was self-moving. Johan Ericsson and John Braithwaite (an English engineer) created one of the first locomotives by altering the original fire truck design. The design was still crude: it featured an open-air platform with large wheels and the engine in back. But it was far more productive and powerful than previous iterations.
This particular model made quite a few contributions before retirement. It saved the English Opera House and the Argyle Rooms from burning down in 1830. It could project two tons of water per minute and burned coke and coal to run. This model built pressure in 20 minutes and continued to improve as Ericsson and Braithwaite fine-tuned the design.
The fire truck we see today took many elements of this 19th century model. In 1911, combustion replaced steam. In the 1930’s, America implemented a ladder. The truck we see today dates back to a classic 1960’s design, though obviously new technology continues to add improvements.
Who knows? Perhaps the fire truck of tomorrow will be just as unrecognizable as today’s feels when compared to the original. Save, of course, for its red color. That seems to stand the test of time.