Learn more about the history of our heroic firefighters

The world is seemingly built of combustible materials. There has always been a need for firefighters – those willing to brave danger to rescue others. Decades had passed since the 1666 Great Fire of London had almost leveled the entire city before the creation of a fire department was considered a good idea here in the U.S. In 1736 Benjamin Franklin began advocating for the creation of fire crews – and it was in his arguments for the creation of a fire department that he first coined the phrase “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” After arguing successfully, Philadelphia was the first to have a dedicated fire crew with the creation of the Union Fire Company. The techniques and equipment used have constantly been evolving over the centuries. Looking back at those changes and the ingenious ways pre-industrial revolution equipment battled the flames is a fascinating look back in time. From a Fred Flintstone looking pumper car of the 1700s to horse drawn wagons, to the mighty Mack trucks, the evolution of firefighting equipment is an easy gauge to track our mechanical evolution.

These museums also cover items beyond the big rigs – right down to  what seems like a simple object – the badge. Items somewhat taken for granted today once were quite important. The concept of the badge was invented in New York in 1855 as a way of solving a common difficulty that firefighters faced—the general public attempting to join the fire lines, often with chaotic results. Firefighters then were like rock stars of today – everyone wanted to be one. Conspicuous badges worn by trained firefighters proved successful, and cities across the states adopted the practice soon thereafter. That “romantic era” of fire fighting is captured in several paintings and can be seen at the Hudson, New York museum. The photographer captured most of the images we are familiar with today – showing the museum pieces in their prime and in use by the brave men in uniform. A visit to one of these museums scattered throughout the USA is an educational and fascinating look into history. They are usually easy to find – located in the heart of the historic district of most cities.

Those that restore and care for these museums are rightfully proud of the firefighting heritage and usually are hard at work inspiring and educating younger generations to follow in their footsteps. The firefighters of today are still rock stars in our book.

On display at Colonial Williamsburg’s Zadarlik Sogoloff Gallery is an example of state-of-the-art firefighting equipment circa 1744-1765. A portable water pumper like this was incredibly valuable at a time when fire hydrants didn’t yet exist and homes were quite flammable with candles as a main source of lighting.


You can enjoy a self-guided tour on your own schedule at the Superior Old Firehouse and Police Museum located just across the bridge from Duluth in Superior, Wisconsin. Built in 1898, the Old Firehouse is now filled with historic fire rigs including the Fire Chief’s 19th century horse-drawn buggy, a 1906 Ahrens Steam Pumper, a 1919 LaFrance Ladder Truck, and a 1944 L Model Mack with a Hale pump.

Superior, Michigan

The Dalles, Oregon: City Hall Firefighter History Display

The Fire Museum in City Hall is small, but well worth the visit. Not widely known, it is located inside the old fire hall attached to City Hall. Exhibits include two beautifully preserved fire engines, an original fire pole from the old fire house, and a collection of photographs that give you a glimpse into life in the early days of The Dalles.

The Dalles, Oregon

Founded in 1962, the Firehouse Museum occupies the former home of San Diego Fire Station No. 6. The museum’s building in Little Italy features firefighting equipment and apparatus dating back to the late 1800s.  La Jolla’s first fire engine, a horse drawn steamer and piece of steel from the World Trade Center are some of the highlighted pieces.

Astoria, Oregon: The Uppertown Firefighter’s Museum 

The museum features fire-fighting equipment from 1879 to 1963, hand-pulled, horse-drawn, and motorized fire engines, fire fighting memorabilia and historic photo displays that include some taken of Astoria’s most spectacular fires. The museum is located in a historic 1896 brick building originally home to a brewery until it was closed due to Prohibition in 1915 and then converted into the city’s fire station in 1928. Notable pieces include an 1876 LaFrance Hook and Ladder Truck, a 1911 La France Chemical Wagon, a 1921 Stutz Pumper, and a 1945 Mack Pumper Engine.

Cincinnati, Ohio: The Cincinnati Fire Museum

The Cincinnati Fire Museum contains over 200 years of firefighting history on display. Exhibits include examples of early leather fire buckets, an 1808 fire drum, the oldest surviving fire engine in Cincinnati, and an 1836 hand pumper. The museum also features an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to experience a modern Emergency-One fire engine cab by wailing the siren, ringing the bell, and flashing the lights.

Seattle: The Last Resort Firefighting Museum

Located in Pioneer Square downtown, the Last Resort Fire Department Museum still houses the Seattle Fire Department offices upstairs. Downstairs has been converted to display vintage fire trucks and equipment including an 1834 Hunneman end-stroke hand pumper. Originally a WW2 era auxiliary fire department, the Last Resort Firefighters nonprofit was formed to collect and restore vintage equipment for display and can often be seen in area parades as well as in their museum.

Philadelphia: Fireman’s Hall Museum

Located in the historic heart of Philadelphia’s Old City district, the museum is housed in a restored 1902 firehouse. The collection includes fire fighting tools, apparatus, uniforms, photographs, prints and fire marks. Philadelphia’s long history with fire fighting is honored.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Baton Rouge, Louisiana: The Robert A. Bogan Firefighters Museum

The Central Fire Station was built in 1924 and it is home to the Robert A. Bogan Firefighters Museum. It is a two-story brick and terracotta building with a Gothic Revival facade. Inside you’ll find artifacts including a 1923 American LaFrance pumper truck., a 1919 aerial truck, historic fire fighting equipment, uniforms and many other articles of the history of firefighting in Baton Rouge.

Boston, Massachusetts: The Boston Fire Museum

The Congress Street Fire Station is an historic fire station dating to 1891 and built in a Romanesque style. One exhibit includes the history of firefighter badges. Before automobile fire trucks, fire engines underwent a long evolution from hand pumpers to hand-pulled trucks to horse-drawn vehicles. The hand pumpers appeared in New York in the 1700s and were imported from England. These were used until the development of the steam pumper in the early 1800s, which allowed firefighters to draw a steadier stream of water. In the mid-1800s, horses pulled steam pumpers with running boards to the scene of the fire.

Memphis, Tennessee: The Fire Museum of Memphis

The Fire Museum of Memphis is located in Fire Engine House No. 1 in the heart of downtown Memphis. It is dedicated to documenting and promoting the local history of fire fighting and educating the public in fire and life safety.The museum provides interactive exhibits as well as video documentation. Unique exhibits include an escape maze; an 1869 Fire Chief Helmet, an ornately carved fire chief’s desk, antique lockers,  an 1865 fire alarm bell, and plenty of firefighter history for all ages to experience.

Charleston, SC: The North Charleston Fire Museum

The museum displays a collection of fire fighting vehicles dating back to the 1780s. Their displays include a large collection of equipment on permanent loan from the American LaFrance Company, which was headquartered nearby until its closure in 2014. The large 20,000 sq ft facility displays more than 20 restored vehicles, interactive exhibits and simulators. Retired and active firefighters from the area provide tours and answer questions. The museum also offers hands-on interactive exhibits and theater presentations that children and adults alike enjoy, including one from their “Home Fire Hazard Theater” complete with live smoke titled “Are You an Escape Artist?”

Memphis, Tennessee. The status board kept track of fires activity around the city.

Hudson, New York: The FASNY Firefighting Museum

The story and evolution of firefighting is told through an extensive treasury of vintage fire apparatus, firefighting gear, equipment and an impressive collection of historical works of art. The museum’s goal is to be much more than diligent caretakers of the collection. Through exhibits and hands-on settings, guests can learn the historical importance and context of the over 20,000 artifacts entrusted to the Museum. Be amazed by a collection that spans Colonial times through today’s modern America.

Hudson, New York

Wherever you travel – the Hudson River Valley, the Mississippi River, the Columbia River, the Ohio River, or the Eastern seaboard, you can find a museum dedicated to firefighting history. We can help you get there and add a visit to your vacation!

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