New York City's Great Fire Of 1835

Marc Ferris describes the fateful fire which engulfed New York and helped bring about changes in the fire department.


New York City's Great Fire of 1835 was a firefighter's nightmare that ignited a political crisis and helped modernize the fire department. In the early 1800s, New York then confined to lower Manhattan Island south of 18th Street grew haphazardly. Rickety brick and wood structures crowded...


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Gulick and his men were vindicated and over the ensuing decades reorganization of the fire department remained a political hot potato until practical realities and new technology eventually forced the creation of the city's professional force.

The tall buildings that replaced those destroyed in the 1835 fire strained the limits of the period's primitive wooden engines, which required 26-man crews to operate a manual pumper that generated a feeble stream.

During the 1840s and 1850s, infernos became more frequent and potentially destructive. One visitor to New York commented that fire-watching was "like deciding to go to the theater to see a play… and sure enough, we did not have to wait long for the spectacle." Clearly, the city needed a better system to fight the problem.

By the early 1860s, inventors perfected the horse-drawn steam engine. Outperforming the old-fashioned gooseneck engines and requiring less manpower, the steam age signaled the arrival of the professional Fire Department of New York City in 1865.

New York's Great Conflagration of 1835 the young nation's first disaster bound the country together in tragedy and changed ways of life for the city's citizens and its firefighters.


Marc Ferris is a writer and historian with an interest in the fire service. He was project editor for the book Encyclopedia Of New York.