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Cincinnati Steam Pumper explosion with LODD 1855

reprint from the 2010 series on the creation of the Metropolitan Fire Department in New York City

response to yesterday's question  original title "Cincinnati Sets the Example – 1853"

Professor Robert Holzman, writing in the December, 1955 American Heritage Magazine, describes the formation of the first paid fire department in Cincinnati on April 1, 1853:

After a particularly bad street brawl, during the course of which a building burned unnoticed to the ground, the Cincinnati city council voted to have a paid fire department of selected men, the selection to be on the basis of virtues other than bellicosity.

When delegations of irate smoke-eaters invaded the council chambers, it was timidly explained that the city was about to purchase an expensive, fragile steamer, and this equipment could be entrusted only to trained technicians.

Cincinnati volunteers, pulling and operating hand-cranked fire pumpers, were replaced with horse-pulled steam engines that weighed 10,000 pounds.

What required a mob of 20 to 30 volunteers to generate a water stream was replaced with a team of three “trained technicians.”

The steam-powered pumpers generated better master streams than the largest hand-cranked pumpers.

A New York delegation witnessed the capabilities of the Cincinnati steam fire pumpers at a July 1854  demonstration.

The first steam pumper, the 1853 Uncle Joe Ross was featured, pumping through eight attack lines from 2" to 3/4"  nozzles with a fire stream range from 90 to 106 feet.

A repeat of this performance eighteen months later had a different outcome.

One Dead in Cincinnati Steam Engine Explosion

On December 5, 1855, the Uncle Joe Ross pumper was making a demonstration for visiting Chicago officials

From the December 6 Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in the New York Times:

About 4 o'clock … pressure at 180 psi …  the receiving chest exploded, instantly killing JOHN WINTERBOTTOM …

A. B."Moses"  LATTA, inventor of the steam fire engine, was badly scalded in the face and on the arms.

The force of the explosion was so great that it threw Mr. W some distance into the air, dismembering his legs and otherwise injuring his body, which fell some yards from the engine.

Municipal Trend

From 1857 to 1864 paid fire departments were established in St. Louis, Louisville (KY), Chicago, Richmond, Boston, Memphis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Detroit, Nashville, Dayton (OH), Washington DC, and Covington (KY). Often the city outlawed volunteer firefighting within the jurisdiction.


(1854, July 20) The Steam Fire-Engine – A Visit from New York Councilman (From the Cincinnati Gazette 7/16/1854). The New York Times.

(1855, December 10) Terrible Explosion of Steam Fire Engine in Cincinnati – One Man Killed and Several Wounded. The New York Times.

Greenberg, Amy S. (1998). Cause for Alarm: The Volunteer Fire Department in the Nineteenth-Century City. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

King, William T. (2001) History of the American Steam Fire Engine. Minolea, NY: Dover Publications. (reprint of 1896 book)

Holzman, Robert S. (1955, December) How Steam Blew the Rowdies Out of the Fire Departments. American Heritage Magazine.
Accessed 08/01/2010 from:

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Mike worked on a project about Reconstruction after the Civil War

This is one in a series of articles about the Metropolitan Fire Department established in Manhattan in 1865.

Mike "FossilMedic" Ward

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