The first hose company met 214 years ago — Franklin Firefighters Medal

Today, the Franklin Firefighters Medal remembers when the group of young men first met to organize a hose company in Philadelphia on December 15, 1803.

From the Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania by John Fanning Watson, published in 1891:


The Philadelphia Hose Company.

On December 15, 1803, the first hose company established in the city, the Philadelphia Hose Company, was organized.

Its history is interesting. It was the pioneer in a wide field of public good.

It was originated by some of our best citizens, young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, all of them members, or descendants of members, of the Society of Friends.

The first meeting was held December 15, 1803, at the house of Reuben Haines, No. 4 Bank (now Lodge) street, adjoining the old Pennsylvania Bank, at that time a fashionable neighborhood.

Although hose was used before for a limited end and of imperfect construction, the idea of applying a far different article to an almost if not entirely new object belongs to this first combination of young men.

Hose had been introduced in 1794 by the Humane Fire Company, and the completion of the Centre Square Waterworks led to a general adoption of hose before this time.

There were present — Reuben Haines, Roberts Vaux, Joseph Parker, Samuel N. Lewis, Abraham L. Pennock, William Morrison, Joseph Warner, William Morris.

The second and third meetings were held on the 16th and 19th of December, at which time Charles E. Smith, Joseph Lea, Samuel Hazard, John R. Hall, and John Wheeler took their seats.

S. N. Lewis and A. L. Pennock resigned.

The following are short biographies of the originators:

Reuben Haines was an apprentice (so called at that time) in the store of Garrigues & Marshall, dry-goods merchants. Of an active mind and temperament, devoting his leisure to some useful objector acquiring scientific knowledge, his after-life was spent in elegant retirement at Germantown, occupied only in works of benevolence or learning.

Roberts Vaux has left to his native city a character which is identified with almost every useful public object. Educated a merchant, he early gave up business and spent his days in constant efforts for the improvement of his fellow-man. The histories of the public institutions of Philadelphia, many of which he originated, are his best biography. He died Jan. 7, 1836.

Joseph Parker was educated in mercantile pursuits. He was active, ardent, impulsive, and kind-hearted. Esteeming the calls of charity as imperatively demanding his personal attention, he was ever the friend of the unfortunate.

Samuel N. Lewis was educated, lived, and died a merchant. With his brother Mordecai the firm was long extensively known as M. & S. N. Lewis, merchants of high repute, and for many years manufacturers of white lead. They were old-fashioned merchants, gentlemen of the purest character, most admirable manners, and highest respectability. Samuel N. Lewis was born in 1785, commenced business with his brother in 1806, and continued in the firm in the same locality until his death in 1841.

Abraham L. Pennock, engaged at one period in making leather hose with rivets, was in business with Samuel J. Robbins, another active, valuable, and early member of the Hose Company, and for many years its president, treasurer, and secretary. After the firm separated it became Pennock & Sellers, and was well known for high character and probity. Mr. Pennock retired to the country, and peaceably closed an exemplary life.

William Morrison, a most amiable and exemplary man, enjoyed the luxury of doing good. For many years the partner of Mordecai L. Dawson, one of our most benevolent and useful citizens, in the brewing of malt liquors, they built up a high reputation for their manufacture and their upright dealing.

Joseph Warner bore a character beyond reproach for sterling qualities of mind and heart and the most practical and enlarged benevolence. He was actively engaged in business. He died November, 1859.

William Morris, trained for the life of a merchant, was singularly kind and agreeable in his manners and character, but died in a Southern climate in early manhood, deeply regretted.

Samuel Hazard, trained for a merchant in Robert Ralston’s counting-house, early in life made several voyages as supercargo to the Mediterranean and the West Indies. Settled in Philadelphia as a commission merchant, and afterward in Huntsville, Alabama. On his return to his native city his strong love for letters induced him to publish The Register of Pennsylvania, 16 vols.; The United States Commercial and Statistical Register, 6 vols.; The Annals of Pennsylvania, 1 vol.; The Colonial Records, 16 vols., and The Archives of Pennsylvania, 12 vols.; The Index to the latter two in 1 vol. — altogether more than fifty large volumes — and numerous pamphlets. An active member and officer of the Presbyterian Church, librarian of the Historical Society, and officer of many societies, he was born in 1784, and died at the ripe age of eighty-six in 1870.

Extracts from an Address Delivered by Richard Vaux

Before the Philadelphia Hose Company, on the completion of the new hall, Seventh street, December 16th, 1850.

“Let us imagine for a moment, in those early times, the alarm of ‘fire’ given on ‘First-Day,’ when, out of each pent-roof door in Front and Second streets, and perhaps as high up town as Fifth street, in Arch and Market and Chestnut streets, the quiet Quaker in his plain, neat First-Day suit, his broad brim, his breeches and buckle shoes and yarn stockings, with three or four of these fire- buckets on either arm, proceeding in an excited gait to the nearest pump to stand in line to pass on the water, working with a conviction that it was doing unto others as he would be done by; and after Neighbor A’s roof had been rid of the fire, returning home with his buckets on his arms, with soaked shoes and muddy stockings, conscious that he had performed a voluntary task, made light by the knowledge that he was one of the many in like condition.

“The picture is a faithful one. He was the first of that noble band known as the Philadelphia firemen. The necessity for a prompt supply of buckets induced a bucket company to be established.

“The first consisted of about twenty young men, who agreed to unite for the purpose of prompt delivery of these articles. They obtained a kind of box or crate on wheels, on which the few buckets they could collect were placed, and thus proceeded quickly to the aid of the engines.

“At their first turnout the number was very limited, but tradition, if nothing more reliable, hints that on their return the capital of the company was greatly augmented, for all the buckets that could be found were safely deposited in the machine, and the night was spent by the young ones in quietly painting out the names of the owners and marking them with the title of the association. This may not inaptly be regarded as the germ of the first hose company.

“Even this contrivance was at last required to yield to more urgent necessity. New and improved appliances became an obvious duty. Several large fires had occurred, and one in Sansom street brought conviction home to the minds of many of the active youth of that time that some mode must be devised to furnish a full supply of water in order to stay the desolation of conflagration.

“To the founders of the Philadelphia Hose Company be long the praise and honor of suggesting and effectuating this most benevolent and public-spirited purpose. Animated with the views and sentiments already referred to, ten young men agreed to associate for the formation of an institution benevolent in its design and useful in its effects — an association the arduous duties of which were self-imposed for general good.

“They discussed the objects of their meeting, proposed plans, made all their arrangements for the regular formation of a company, and went to work, young, enthusiastic, hopeful, and successfully. It is worthy of remark that they were all under age.

“They required four hundred feet of hose and screws, estimated at two hundred dollars; a ‘machine’ for the hose to be carried in, to cost fifty dollars; a hose-house, at an expense of one hundred dollars. The money was to be raised. A committee on address to the citizens was appointed, and, as is not unfrequent now, that committee was required to collect subscriptions.

“The citizens gave cheerfully, and in a short time seven hundred dollars were raised by contribution. This was enough and to spare for a beginning.

“Reuben Haines gave the company the use of the lot No. 7 North Fourth street, and in connection with the Philadelphia Engine Company a house was built; so great was the anxiety for its completion that the water was heated in the street to make mortar.

“The hose was obtained from Frederick Shultz, at the cost of forty-three cents per foot, under a contract for six hundred feet; it was made of leather sewed with thread, in sections of fifty feet each, except two of twenty-five feet each.

“The next duty to be performed was the building of the machine, and Patrick Lyon was the maker. It was an oblong box upon wheels, six feet nine inches long by two feet six inches wide and two feet deep; the hose was carried in the box without a cylinder.

“It was used as a reservoir also when the hose was in service for holding water to feed engines. This box had arms at the front and back to assist in changing its position, and lanterns on either side with candles; this wonder of the age cost ninety-eight dollars.

“The first fire at which the hose company turned out was in old Harmony court, then called Whalebone alley, south of Chestnut street and east of Fourth street, on the 3d of March, 1804, about three months after the first meeting of its founders.

“As this was the first occasion at which the first hose-carriage was in service at a fire in Philadelphia, we propose to give a list of the members on duty. The minutes record that there were twenty members present -viz. Reuben Haines, Roberts Vaux, Joseph Parker, Abraham L. Pennock, William Morrison, William Morris, Charles E. Smith, Joseph Lea, Samuel Hazard, John J. Wheeler, James P. Parke, William C. Nesbitt, Ralph Smith, Lloyd Mifflin, Daniel D. Smith, Charles Jones, James Chambers, Joshua Emlen, Charles L. Smith, and John Rakestraw.


The Franklin Firefighters Medal shows with an artist’s image of the first hose carriage in the United States.