Conestoga Wagon and Hand-Pumped Fire Engine

NMAH Conestoga Wagon

Please note: the fire engine is now on view next to the John Bull in 1 East.

Covered wagons have long held an important place in the real and storied past of the nation by enabling settlement to spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Until the 1850s, Conestoga wagons such as this one helped settlers just beyond the mid-Atlantic region compete in national and even world markets.  Hauling supplies and finished goods over the Allegheny Mountains to what was then the western frontier and returning to Philadelphia and Baltimore with the agricultural bounty of the land, wagons were part of the commercial life blood of the nation. Today, after more than a century of disuse, covered wagons still hold an evocative place in the memory of the American experience.

 

Hand-Pumped Fire Engine

Built by Betts, Harlan & Hollingsworth (Wilmington, Delaware)
c.1842
Developed in Philadelphia in the late 18th and early 19th century, this style of engine was pulled by hand to a fire. Pump handles, called “brakes,” and standing boards folded up to maneuver through crowded streets. With these extended, twenty or more firefighters could operate the pumps, with several teams working in short shifts. An engine of this size could throw over 100 gallons a minute on a blaze from a distance of 150 feet or more. Firefighters directed streams either from a long nozzle fixed on top or through leather hoses attached to discharges at the sides. Though earlier engines were filled by buckets, pumpers of this period were equipped with suction to draw directly from municipal hydrants and cisterns.