New York City Fire Scene, c. 1900

Historical Context
A firefighter in the early 1900s worked on a continuous-duty system.  He worked six days a week, had one day off, and spent twenty-four hours a day at the firehouse.  He was able to go home for meals twice a day for two hours.  His pay was thirteen cents an hour, or about $1,000 dollars annually.

The first steam fire engine in the United States was designed and built in New York City by Paul Rapsey Hodge in 1841.  The steam in the photo is coming from the fire engine’s boiler.  The boiler made steam to power the engine’s water pump, which could pump 6,000 gallons of water up to 120 feet in the air onto a fire.  This was a much bigger volume of water than previous engines could pump. 
Essential Question
How do human settlement patterns impact individual safety?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the role of human settlement patterns in this situation.
[click to enlarge]
New York City. Fire Scene at Union Square, Water Tower at Work., New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_204
Document Description
Firefighters use hoses and a water tower to fight a fire at Union Square in New York City, circa 1900.
  1. How did firefighters combat fires in tall buildings?
  2. What might be a concern for the horses?
  3. How have technological advances altered firefighters’ safety?
Historical Challenge
Research the famous Triangle Shirt Factory fire. What were some positive effects of this tragedy?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a newspaper article as if it were the year 1900 that describes safety precautions one must take to prevent fires.
Art: Create a poster for fire safety week.
  1. Anderson, Catherine. Fire Truck Factory. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2005. ISBN: 1403461627
  2. Marston, Hope Irvin. Fire Truck. New York: Cobblehill Books, 1996. ISBN: 0525652310
  3. Molzahn, Arlene Bourgeois. Fire Engines. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2001. ISBN: 0766016439
  4. Osborne, Mary Pope. New York's Bravest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. ISBN: 0375821961
  5. Fortney, Mary T. Fire Station Number 4: The Daily Life of Firefighters. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1998. ISBN: 1575050897
  6. Winkleman, Katherine K. Firehouse. New York: Walker, 1994. ISBN: 0802783163.
  7. Fisher, Leonard Everett. Pumpers, Boilers, Hooks and Ladders: A Book of Fire Engines. New York: Dial Press, 1961.
  8. Tamarin, Alfred H. Fire Fighting in America. New York: Macmillan, 1971.
  9. Greene, Jacqueline Dembar. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. New York: Bearport, 2007. ISBN: 1597163597
  10. Schaefer, A. R. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library, 2004. ISBN: 0836853830