The First Professional Fire Department in the United States

On April 1, 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio, established the first professional and fully paid fire department in the United States as a result of a devastating fire that occurred in 1852 at Eagle Ironworks. Interestingly, Miles Greenwood, who owned Eagle Ironworks, served as the department’s first Chief. The business losses he suffered as a result of the 1852 fire prompted him to seek new and better ways to fight fires several months prior to his appointment as Cincinnati’s first Fire Chief.

On March 2, 1852, Greenwood, along with Abel Shawk and Alexander Bonner Latta, began construction of the world’s first practical steam-powered fire engine. Shawk was a locksmith, and Latta was a locomotive builder. Eagle Ironworks manufactured the engines. Earlier inventors had manufactured steam-powered fire engines, but the Cincinnati version proved to be much more practical, as the steam engine could begin pumping water out of a water source in 10 minutes. Earlier engines took significantly longer.

On January 1, 1853 the three men demonstrated their finished engine to the Cincinnati City Council, and the Council members quickly contracted for an engine. The first fire engine was presented to the Cincinnati Fire Department on January 1, 1853, making Cincinnati the first city in the world to use steam fire engines. The engine was named “Uncle Joe Ross” after a City Council member. In 1854, Cincinnati residents raised enough funds to allow the Fire Department to purchase a second steam fire engine named “Citizen’s Gift.” The steam fire engine forever changed firefighting in Cincinnati and by 1863 Cincinnati had replaced all of its hand-engines with steam fire engines.

Cincinnati Fire Department

Cincinnati's First Steam Fire Engine

Cincinnati’s First Steam Fire Engine

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