Ornamental Separator

Richard Newsham’s Fire Engine

On view in the Helen Zadarlik and Bruce Sogoloff Gallery
This exhibition was made possible by a grant from the Ambrose and Ida Frederickson Foundation

Resembling a tricked-out coffin on four wheels, Colonial Williamsburg’s original 18th-century fire engine is one flaming-hot antique! This piece is so important to early American history that is part of a rare “stand alone” exhibit, and has been reproduced not once, but twice for actual use in the Historic Area. Richard Newsham’s Fire Engine uses the display of this magnificent machine to explore fire and early fire-fighting techniques.

Fire Engine by Richard Newsham, London, England, ca. 1744-1765

Like modern ones, early engines were used to direct a stream of water at an out of control fire—which was a significant problem in a time when buildings and their contents were highly flammable. Indeed, Williamsburg was described as “our Wooden city” in 1721, and remained relatively safe until 1747, when the Capitol Building burned. To prevent further tragedy, the colony wisely decided to invest in a proper fire engine “and Four Dozen of Leatheren Buckets for use of the Capitol” in 1754.

This patented engine, built in London by Richard Newsham’s firm around 1750, is known to have been the clear choice for anyone in England or America who was serious about combating fire. 


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