1885 BUTTON STEAM PUMPER

Our magnificent 1885 Button Steam Pumper is on loan from the Old Town, Maine Fire Department. It was built by Button & Sons of Waterford, New York, weighs 6200 pounds, and the original cost was $750.

This pumper replaced the hand-tub pumper and allowed just three men (engineer, driver and coal stoker) to take the place of six or more men who were needed to operate a hand pumper. It could send a 2 1/2” stream of water 250 feet into the air, impressive even by today’s standards.

The large copper dome is to capture air and provide for equalization of the pulsation of the pump, basically to smooth the flow of water. This unit could generate over 60 pounds of steam pressure in about 5 minutes. The large black hose on the side is the intake hose, the canvas fire hose would be transported separately on a hose wagon. 

This steam pumper was restored by museum volunteers over a four year period, and the wheels were rebuilt by the very expert Amish. 

Did you know that Dalmatians were first associated with horse-drawn fire equipment? The dogs were great companions to the horses and apparently had a calming effect.

Steam as a means of fire suppression was introduced in 1885 – the latest in fire equipment.

Steamers were graded in seven different sizes, the largest being an “Extra First”, down to a “Sixth”. This Button is a “Third” or mid-size steamer, 650 GPM, its height is 9’4” and it is 24 feet long.

A little background. The early American fire pumpers were man-powered machines – they were pulled to the fire by men or horses and upon arriving at the fire scene, would be hand-pumped by the men. The water for fire fighting was drawn by the pump and directed toward the fire, provided there was a water source available.

Long before the era of modern diesel and gasoline powered pumpers, horse-drawn steamers protected large cities and small towns. These were a big improvement over the earlier man-powered units. The boiler produced steam which operated a suction-type engine that pumped water from all available water sources. But, there were problems with the steam pumpers. The boiler would need to be kept ready so that the fire department could quickly respond to an emergency. Sparks from the pumper’s boiler could set fire to the firehouse itself – and sometimes it did!

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