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The Story Behind the Photo: United States Fire Company, No. 21

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On Monday, October 16, 1865, the Philadelphia Fire Department held a grand parade through the streets of Philadelphia. Consisting of fire companies from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Albany, Newark, Pittsburgh, and several other cities, thousands of firemen paraded with their steam fire engines, hose carriages, ambulances, and bands down an estimated ten-mile route crowded with spectators. According to a New York Times article on October 17, 1865, the parade lasted from 10am to 6pm and "not a scene of disorder occurred on the route."

This "Grand Parade of Firemen in Philadelphia" is an interesting piece of our city's history, but you may be wondering what in the world it has to do with PhillyHistory.org. We certainly weren't randomly thinking about parades while scanning photos this month. That is, we weren't thinking about it until this 1865 photo of a fire company with a hose carriage made it to the front of the digitization queue.

We were very excited to add this 147 year old image to PhillyHistory. Unfortunately, the age of the photo was just about the only thing that we knew about it. The photo was a small print showing a group of firemen wearing sweaters labeled US standing in front of a building with United States on the façade. The back of the print was labeled "R. Newell 724 Arch St. Philad'a - Oct 1865" but no other information was available. It was time to do some research.

A search for articles on firemen published in October 1865 led us to discover the parade held during that month. For a short time, we wondered if the photo could have been of a group who traveled to Philadelphia for that event. The United States on the building façade and the US on the sweaters most likely referred to the United States Fire Company, however, which was located in Philadelphia in the 1800s. Thanks to the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, we knew that 724 Arch Street was not labeled as a fire house in 1862, and we guessed it was the studio of the photographer (R. Newell) who developed the print. How would we confirm the fire company's name and discover the location of their firehouse?

We turned to the experts - the staff and volunteers of the Fireman's Hall Museum of Philadelphia. Operated by the Philadelphia Fire Department with the support of the Philadelphia Fire Department Historical Corporation, we figured that if anyone could pinpoint the location of this company it would be these specialists on the history of firefighting in Philadelphia. Sure enough, a few quick emails later and we had our identification - the United States Fire Company, No. 21, located at 409 Wood Street. In 1863, the company possessed both a steam fire engine and a hose carriage. Two years later, our photograph shows a number of firemen displaying their company's hose carriage outside the firehouse. A quick return to the 1862 atlas on the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network and we saw "U.S. Fire Co." clearly labeled on the property at 409 Wood Street near the intersection of Wood and York Avenue.

Was the photograph taken as part of the firemen's parade of October 1865? We can't be sure. Even though we'll never know what led to this photograph being made nearly a century and a half ago, we learned much more about the history of firefighting in Philadelphia and a unique parade that happened just a few months after the end of the Civil War. Like the best historical photos, this image of a captured moment in time got us thinking, researching, and discovering more about the past.

 
 

More Prints and Gifts Available in the PhillyHistory.org Store

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Looking for the perfect photo to show your love for Philadelphia? From the funny to the serious to the iconic, there is usually a photo on PhillyHistory.org that would be a great addition to your home or office or the perfect birthday or housewarming gift.

Earlier this spring, we implemented a new print purchasing system that makes a few new products available in the PhillyHistory.org store. Prints can now be purchased in a wide variety of sizes that keep the proportions of the original image. Users can choose between photographic, fine art, or canvas styles and select glossy or lustre (matte) papers. We've also added wall peels in case you're looking to cover a very large space in a mural style. PhillyHistory images can also be added to greeting cards, invitations, and postcards to help you share your love of Philadelphia's history with others. Check out the new options and let us know if there is a particular product you would like to see.

We hope you enjoy the PhillyHistory.org store. Your purchases on PhillyHistory help continue our photo digitization and the work of the City of Philadelphia. Thank you for your support!

 
 

Found a Photo you Love? Pin It!

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One of our favorite parts of PhillyHistory.org is the ability to share the photos we find with other people. After all, who can see a photo of a giant Liberty Bell covered in light bulbs and not want to share it with the world?

To make it easier to share photos with others, each image includes links to Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and an email form. With a click of a button, you can share the image with your friends and colleagues directly via PhillyHistory.org. While these links have been around for awhile, we recently added a new link to Pinterest - a site that lets users "pin" and share images they have found online. Images can be organized into different boards and other people can "re-pin" images to their boards. Think of it as a virtual bulletin board where you post photos you like.

To pin a PhillyHistory.org photo, simply click the "Pin it" button located above the image you are looking at. If you're logged into your Pinterest account, you'll be able to write a description for the photo and add the image to one of your boards. The pinned image will automatically link back to the original photo on PhillyHistory.org so other people will know where the photo was found. In addition to sharing the image with other people, this is also a great way to help spread the word about PhillyHistory.org!

If you're a Pinterest user, we hope you'll take advantage of the new button. Is there a social media site you think we should support? Let us know at info@phillyhistory.org.



 
 

Did You Know?

 

Do you consider yourself a savvy PhillyHistory user? Even the most frequent visitors to the site may be missing out on some great features.

Commenting on the PhillyHistory.org Blog: With posts every week, the PhillyHistory blog gives you the stories behind the photos. Articles cover topics ranging from the historical background of current events to neighborhood histories to unexpected connections between Philadelphia and national history. Commenting is open on each entry and we would love to hear your opinion.

Search Help: Confused about a certain search feature? Looking for new ways to explore the historic photos? Check out the PhillyHistory Search Guide for tips and tricks on searching the database.

Philadelphia Historic Streets Index: Over the three hundred years of its history, Philadelphia streets have changed names, been rerouted, merged, and separated. The Philadelphia Historic Streets Index provides a way to search by street and discover all the ways we've renamed parts of our city.




 
 

June 2012

The Philadelphia City Archive is one of the country's largest municipal archives, with an estimated 2 million photographs that date from the late 1800ís. These gorgeous pictures paint a stunning portrait of Philadelphia and its industry, architecture, culture and people.

Featured Blog Post

June 11, 1923: Fiery Destruction at Broad Street Station

Archivist's Photo of the Month

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