On This Date In Twin Cities History - July 23, 1924
On this date in 1924, the last of the St. Paul Fire Department’s horse drawn fire engines are retired.
St. Paul’s first major fire occurred when a chapel, erected by the Rev. Mr. Neill, on Washington street, was burned to the ground in 1850. As late as December, 1851, one of the papers published in the city, stated that: “St. Paul is entirely destitute of means for extinguishing fire. Measures should be taken at once to form a hook and ladder company. Should a fire occur, let every citizen repair to it with a bucket of water.”
In 1851, a hook and ladder company was organized by some of the young men in the city. At that time the company battled fires with nothing more than buckets passed hand to hand – sometimes extending a quarter to half a mile to the nearest water source. Enough money was collected to purchase a few ladders. They soon fell into disuse, however, as the men of the company grew weary of carrying them on their shoulders, and having no trucks or wagons for that purpose, they went unused. Eventually the company disbanded.
Fires continued to be of grave concern in the city. In June, 1852 a hotel erected by Daniels & Wasson, near St. Paul’s upper landing, was destroyed. In October, 1854, the Sintomine Hotel, erected by Mr. N. W. Kittson, near the corner of Sixth and John streets, burned shortly after it was completed.
In 1854, Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 was formed under provisions of the city Charter. The company was comprised of eighteen volunteer members and one “truck” with hooks and ladder and one fire engine with hose. In 1858, two double-deck hand fire engines were added. By the close of the 1850s, the St. Paul Fire Department had grown to four companies and 175 men.
On August 11, 1866, the department took delivery of its first steamer. The rapid growth of the city necessitated the frequent purchase of new fire equipment and by 1908, the St. Paul Fire Department had 211 paid men, fifteen steamers, four chemical fire engines, eight hook and ladder companies and 122 horses.
The early steam fire engines were used nationwide from approximately 1840 to 1920> They allowed for the quick transfer of water but were still hindered by a horse’s capabilities. The demand for more water to fight bigger fires increased the weight of the fire engine and, in turn, rendered the horse ineffective for bigger engines.
By 1913, companies such as the Ahrens-Fox Manufacturing Company from Cincinnati and the Knox Automobile Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, were leading the conversion from steam to gas-powered engines. It soon became apparent that the advantages of motorized over horse-drawn engines were too numerous to argue.
Finally, on July 23, 1924, after 70 years of use, the last of the St. Paul Fire Department’s horse drawn fire engines was retired. Nationwide by 1925, the steam pumper had all but been completely replaced by motorized pumpers.
- Bliss, Frank C., St. Paul Past and Present (1888)
- Moore, Frank, Reminiscences of Pioneer Days in St. Paul (1908)