Building a replica of the John Ericsson Steam Fire Engine

John Ericssons Steam Fire Engine (13kB)

Facts about the first steam fire engine in the world

Designed, in 1829-1830, a steam fire engine, mounted on a rude carriage for experimental purposes. The working cylinder was 12in. In diameter, placed vertically, a double-acting force pump of 8½in.diameter being placed on each side, operated by means of a cross-head attached to the piston rod of the steam cylinder. The machine was thoroughly tested by throwing jets of water, varying from 1in. to 1½in. diameter, to the top of the chimneys of certain breweries. The boiler was cylindrical and placed vertically, the furnace, slightly conical, being also vertical. The heated air and products of combustion passed off trough a helical flue, terminating at the top of the boiler. The air for supporting the combustion was supplied by a reciprocating blowing machine, worked by the engine when in operation.

The trials proved so satisfactory that Mr J. Braitwaite, who built this first steam fire engine, decided to make another to be mounted on a light frame supported by springs, suitable to run on pavements for practical purposes. I accordingly at once designed the second steam fire engine. The work was pushed vigorously, the machine proving a perfect success on first trial. Shortly after its completion the memorable conflagration at the Argyle Rooms offered a chance of testing the engine in actual practice. An account of this new fire-extinguisher will be found in the Mechanics Magazine of Feb. 13th 1830. Having thus originated, elaborated and perfected the new system, I claim to be the father of steam fire engines, cheerfully admitting, however, that, but for the confidence and liberality of my friend and patron, John Braithwaite, it would not have been in my power to carry my plans into practice. It is proper to mention that I designed two other steam fire engines, ordered from Braitwaites establishment, about the same time - one for the Liverpool Docks and one for the Prussian Government. (The Engineer Dec 31 1875, by John Ericsson)

Another opportunity for testing the fire-engine occurred when Barclays brewery was burned and Ericsson engine was borrowed and kept at work day and night for a month, without interrupting, pumping and starting the beer from the different vats in the establishment. It was afterward taken on a sort of starring tour to France, where it was used with great success in several towns, and from there to Russia, where similar results followed its trail. (The life of John Ericsson, New York W.C Church 1911)

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A beautiful construction, called the Comet, was sold to the King of Prussia 1832 and Berlin was the first continental city to use a steam fire engine.

The engines were met with a great opposition and no engine was sold in London and, since the demand of steam fire engines was minimal, the production was stopped. None of these engines are preserved.

The alarming frequency and extent of conflagrations in the city of New York, during the winter of 1839-40, caused the attention of the citizens generally and of the different insurance companies in particular. The Mechanics Institute of New York offered its gold medal - the highest honour within its gifts - as a reward for the best method of applying steam to the fire-engine. The token of excellence was awarded to John Ericsson, one of the most celebrated of European engineers, who is now on a visit to this country. Family Magazine, New York 1840, by John Ericsson

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But even in New York the new technique was met by distrust. Ericsson was also in this modern city a man ahead of his time. In the "History of the American Steam Fire Engines" the author William King states that had this engine been built according to the plans laid out, it would undoubtedly have proved a very practical machine, and been the cause of bringing the steam fire-engine to perfection long before is was. But this engine was never built.

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The project

The Club has planned a project with the scoop to make one or more replicas of the steam fire engine planned in New York. John Ericsson´s own descriptions and drawings give us a base to start, almost 170 years later, building a famous and prized engine.

In this project we can remind of John Ericsson, steam power and elder technique used for fire fighting. A replica of the elegant steam fire engine can become an attraction wherever it will appear. Such an engine will be of interest around Sweden and around the world. We therefore believe that there may be a market for such unique engines incl the exiting story. The idea was also to make them as scale-models with all functions.

Most of the work can be done in Storfors where there are knowledge and tradition in steam and pipe-techniques.

A project can be lead by the club. Björn Albinson can give more information. His address is Allmogegatan 7, 654 65 Karlstad, Sweden. Phone +46 (0)54-212749.

In a first step construction drawings are needed. A pre-study has be made and include all (?) that is written from that time in London and New York.

Support with facts and encourage has come from


We are looking for any kind. Please contact us on or Björn as above.


We took part in the planning of national exhibitions in the year of 2003, 200 years after the birth of John Ericsson.

2006 brief presentation at The Bridge Confernece i Karlstad, Sweden. It was the annual conference of Swedish Council of America.

Short presentation of a video on John Ericsson Face Book sight (2011)