The steam-powered fire engine

Competition rages in the steam fire engine sector

A steam fire engine tearing down the streets was a spectacular and unusual sight in Victorian Britain. It took a few decades before the invention, with a history dating back to 1829, gained public favour. However, once it did, fierce competition broke out between the companies Messrs Merryweather and Sons, and Shand Mason and Co.

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In The Engineer’s archives, an article about Merryweather and Sons’ entry of a steam fire engine at the International Exhibition of 1862 in Hyde Park takes a look at some of its unique characteristics. ’The carriage consists of a strong wrought iron frame of a novel form, pivoted upon a wrought iron fore carriage, to prevent straining in passing over uneven roads; an arched recess in the side frames permits the locking of the fore carriage as may be required,’ said the report. ’The wheels are large, especially the hinder ones, and the carriage is hung upon springs so as to be well adapted for travelling.’

It continued: ’At the late trial, while the engine was in full work, some person inadvertently shut down the sluice valve, and the sudden excessive strain thus thrown upon the delivery main caused the brazing of a joint to open, and rendered the continuance of quantitative competition inexpedient.’

Despite this mishap, the engine continued working for as long as the other competitors during the exhibition. The next year saw three-day steam fire engine trials held at the Crystal Palace. Ten engines, including three from the US, were subjected to tests, at the end of which Messrs Merryweather’s Sutherland model was announced the winner and received a prize of £250.