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Interpreting the Evidence

Fire Engine, New York City, c. 1900

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Fire Engine, New York City, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A fire engine at work in New York City, circa 1900.
Historical Context
A firefighter in the early 1900s worked on a continuous-duty system.  He worked six days a week, had one day off, and spent twenty-four hours a day at the firehouse.  He was able to go home for meals twice a day for two hours.  His pay was thirteen cents an hour, or about $1,000 dollars annually.

The first steam fire engine in the United States was designed and built in New York City by Paul Rapsey Hodge in 1841.  The steam in the photo is coming from the fire engine’s boiler.  The boiler made steam to power the engine’s water pump, which could pump 6,000 gallons of water up to 120 feet in the air onto a fire.  This was a much bigger volume of water than previous engines could pump.

Essential Question
How do human settlement patterns impact public safety?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain why this equipment was necessary.
Historical Challenges
Research the famous Triangle Shirt Factory fire. What were some positive effects of this tragedy?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a newspaper article as if it were the year 1900 that describes safety precautions one must take to prevent fires.
Art: Create a poster for fire safety week.