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Water Tower 1

Today we’re taking a closer look at one of the Fire Museum’s more unique pieces: an 1898 Hale water tower, once horse-drawn, that was used in the Great Fire of Baltimore in 1904, and for more than 60 years after.

One of the changes that resulted from the progression of engineering technologies during the second half of the 19th century was the construction of buildings taller than three or four stories. Prior to the use of cast iron and steel in the framework of buildings, a structure taller than thirty or forty feet was a rare sight, especially in the United States. As load-bearing metal was incorporated into construction practices, new inventions made “skyscrapers” possible. These inventions included the safety elevator, “fire doors,” and electric lighting. So what does Water Tower 1 have to do with all of this?

As buildings grew taller, firefighters needed longer ladders, larger pumps, and more hose in order to reach fires in the upper stories. One of the inventions devised for this purpose was the water tower, which was a nozzle attached to an elevating mast that could be pulled to a fire. The Fire Museum’s water tower, an 1898 Hale (known as Water Tower 1, or WT1), is one of those, and was originally pulled by a team of three horses.

During Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904, the Water Tower responded during the first moments of the blaze. The horses that pulled fire apparatus during that era were always disconnected and led some distance away while the fire was being fought, both for the safety of the horses, and to keep them out of the way of the firefighters. Two of the horses that pulled WT1 had been detached from the rig when the remaining horse, “Goliath,” was suddenly pelted by burning debris. The windows of the building next to WT1 had burst due to the fire, and now flames were singeing his flank. Goliath managed to pull the water tower away from the building, saving it from destruction. While he was burned along his right side, he recovered admirably – he even received a parade in his honor afterwards.

As the Baltimore City Fire Department modernized, much of its horse-drawn apparatus was converted for motorization. In the water tower’s case, this meant exchanging the wagon wheels for solid rubber tires, replacing the horses with a tractor, and adding a mechanism for steering the rear wheels to the tower. Water Tower 1 went through multiple vehicle configurations before ending at its final arrangement, pulled by a 1933 Mack BQ tractor. This was the way the apparatus existed for its final three decades, as the Water Tower continued to respond to calls through the 1960s. Its final fire fighting call was the Playboy Club fire of 1969 – more than 70 years after WT1 was first purchased from the Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, Illinois.

Be sure to visit the Fire Museum on Saturday, May 7th, when we'll have WT1 outside during our annual Steam Show. We'll have the mast up and water flowing through the nozzle, along with hose carriage rides and games for kids of all ages. Be sure to check out our Events page for more information.

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