Fire Engines: A Timeline

Few motor vehicles are as important to a community and to public safety as a fire engine. And like any important tool, it has evolved over time. Check out these major milestones showing how fire truck equipment and technology have changed throughout the centuries.

When a fire truck comes rolling down the road — sirens wailing, lights flashing — it’s an attention-grabbing spectacle that fills us with a mix of respect and awe.

The modern fire truck blends functionality, engineering, technology and experience going back hundreds of years. Here’s a timeline of major milestones that have resulted in the remarkable vehicles we have today:

1678 — The first fire engine company went into service in Boston, Massachusetts.

1721 — In England, Richard Newsham obtained patents for his design of a “new water engine for quenching and extinguishing fires”.

1743 — Thomas Lote designed and built the first fire engine made in America.

1821 — The first rubber-lined, cotton web fire hose was patented by J. Boyd of Boston.

1841 — America’s first self-propelled, steam-powered fire engine was built in New York, but was soon destroyed by fire fighters who consider the vehicle dangerous and unreliable.

1873 — Truckson LaFrance founded the LaFrance Manufacturing Company, makers of hand-, horse- and steam-powered fire engines.

1878 — The fire escape ladder was patented by Joseph Winters.

Fire Engine 1

1881 — Fredric Seagrave founded Seagrave & Company in Detroit, Michigan.

1905 — The first modern fire engine, mounted on a truck body, was constructed by Knox Automobile of Springfield, Massachusetts.

1910 — John P Ahrens and Charles H. Fox founded the Ohio-based Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company.

Fire Engine 2

1930 — With fire fighters in need of a way to reach the upper floors of American buildings that were increasing in height, ladders as tall as 150 feet began appearing on fire trucks.

1940 — Fire trucks began to be fitted with aerial platforms—known as “cherry pickers”—that allow fire fighters to ascend to formerly unreachable corners of any building.

1960 — The modern day fire truck—equipped with water pumps, ladders, cherry-pickers and enclosed seats for the crew—are born.

Got a favorite fire truck? Tell us about it. Or, better yet, share a picture. Take a minute to comment below or head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page to share your thoughts and see what other members are saying.


If you enjoy antique fire apparatus and are in the Jacksonville, FL area then click here for information on a show and flea market happening during the 2013 SPAAMFAA Winter Convention next February!

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