National Museum of American History displays 19th-century fire pumper

The National Museum of American History will feature a 19th-century fire pumper—a predecessor to the modern fire engine—at its Constitution Avenue entrance beginning June 27. It will be paired with a Conestoga wagon and tell the everyday stories of early Americans.

19th-Century Fire PumperThe public will see the inscription, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” which was added to the fire pumper when it was sold for the second time and transported from New Jersey to Philadelphia in the 1880s. The fire pumper was decorated with panels and inscriptions that paid homage to the famous Hand in Hand Fire Co. of Philadelphia. Both inscriptions convey a sense of mutual solidarity, which inspired volunteers to protect and serve the neighborhoods they resided in.

This artifact is part of a larger collection of 2,500 objects—one of the oldest of American firefighter objects in the museum—donated by CIGNA in 2005. Most post-Revolutionary War, pre-Civil War fire pumpers, such as the one going on display, were pulled by hand through narrow streets where firefighters could operate the pump levers with several teams working in short shifts. Though earlier pumpers had tubs filled by bucket brigades, this pumper was equipped with a suction hose to draw water directly from municipal hydrants and cisterns. Through early piston technology, an engine of this size could throw more than 100 gallons a minute on a blaze from a distance of 150 feet or more.

For more information, visit The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.