Seattle unveils steam-powered fire engine on February 1, 1879.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 3/07/1999
  • Essay 961
On February 1, 1879, the City of Seattle unveils a new Gould steam fire-engine pump. In a parade through downtown, the Seattle Cornet Band leads a procession of Seattle volunteer firefighters in their red shirts and black pants, followed by the steam-powered fire engine pulled by six horses. Behind the engine are the Mayor, city officers, and City Council. After the parade, the fire engine is pulled to Commercial Street (later renamed 1st Avenue S) and Main Street and its workings and capacities are demonstrated.

The Town Comes Out

On January 24, 1879, the fire engine arrived on the ship Eldorado. It took a week to assemble it. A "grand parade" for the fire engine was scheduled for 3 o'clock February 1, 1879." Before the appointed time for the procession to start both sides of [Columbia Street] were literally crowded with anxious spectators, who were on tiptoe for the performance to commence" (Intelligencer February 8, 1879).

The Seattle Cornet Band led the procession. Marching behind the band were Seattle volunteer firefighters in their red shirts and black pants, and behind them, the steam-powered fire engine pulled by six horses. Then came the mayor, city officers, and members of the city council.

After the parade through town, the fire engine was pulled to Commercial Street (later renamed 1st Avenue S) and Main Street for a demonstration. It took about 10 minutes to fire up the steam pump to 140 pounds pressure. A cistern buried in the intersection (placed there for fire protection) provided the source of water. Using three hoses at once, the pump sent the three streams of water over the United States Hotel (southeast corner of Commercial Street and Main Street) which landed some 135 feet away. Using one hose, the stream was sent 240 feet, almost an entire city block.

A Most Inviting Repast

"In the evening the ladies of Seattle, with their usual thoughtfulness, spread a most inviting repast in the Council chamber which was highly enjoyed by the firemen, city officers, band, and a few guests" (Intelligencer February 8, 1879). This was followed by a dance at Yesler's Hall (southeast corner of Front Street, later renamed 1st Avenue, and Cherry Street) that lasted till midnight.

Sources: Weekly Intelligencer, January 25, 1879, p. 3; Ibid. February 8, 1879, p. 3.

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