A Brief History of Fire Hose

We’re all about fire hose here at Rawhide, but have you ever wondered what their history is? You should! Learning about how we went from ox gut to the power house double jacket attack hose is essential to understanding fire engineering and garners an appreciation for the inventors of the ages and those who risked their lives fighting the fires to keep us safe.

It seems that as soon as man created fire, he just as quickly discovered how to put it out. Well before a conduit was invented, man literally carried water to fires by hand. This led to the realization that if a vessel could carry a lot of water, the fire would be extinguished faster. Thus, bags made from ox gut were born, and their existence was documented as early as 400 B.C., in which the bags were filled, then stomped on, blasting the water out of the bag and onto the fire.

Bucket Brigade used before vintage fire hose

A colonial bucket brigade (courtesy of FASNY Museum of Firefighting)

Around 1673, Dutch painter, inventor, and printmaker, Jan van der Heyden and his son produced what they referred to as “ fire hose”. Interestingly, they sewed leather tubes together in 50 foot lengths, which is still considered a standard length to this day. This allowed fire fighters to get closer to the fire, which enabled them to aim and shoot the stream precisely where they wanted it. Jan van der Heyden also wrote the first firefighting manual: Brandspuiten-boek.

In the early 1800’s, hydrants, tanks, and cisterns were used, and nozzles were designed to further improve water flow characteristics. One problem that surfaced early on and plagued early fire hoses  was leakage. The stitches that connected the leather leaked and after a while the leather itself began to seep water. The introduction of pump action tankers led to over pressure in which the hose would burst.

Rivets were introduced in 1807 and were applied to the thickest part or rear quarters of the cowhides. This made the hose almost leak proof, however it added significant weight. A 40 to 50 foot length of hose weighed upwards of 85 pounds. The leather hose required a good deal of maintenance much as it still does today.  Early leather hose was treated with fish and whale oil to help preserve it.

Antique fire hose and engine reel cart

A two-cylinder steam fire engine, late 1800s in Aurora, IN

In 1821, James Boyd patented rubber lined, woven jacketed fire hose. In those early days of modern fire hose the jackets were made from spun cotton. Akron Ohio’s own Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanization process, and applied that to rubber hose, reinforced with cotton ply.

Through the subsequent decades to follow, fire hose has undergone monumental changes. The jackets are now polyester woven yarn, treated to resist mold, mildew and abrasion. The rubber extrusion process has advanced to the point that it really cannot be improved upon.  A conduit will always be required to move “the wet stuff to the hot stuff” unless someone can devise a way to teleport it. One can only wonder, what improvements and developments lie ahead?

Oh, yes, which brings me to the namesake of Rawhide Fire Hose. In recent history of fire hose, bucket brigades were used by townspeople in attempt to extinguish fires. The buckets were made of leather and primarily used to water horses. Leather tubes emerged as a more effective and accurate way to battle fires. Leather is known to be tough, yet flexible making for a good way to carry that water to the fire. Leather is also known as ……Rawhide.

For those of you of the vintage to remember the television series by the same name, starring none other than Clint Eastwood, call Team Rawhide, ask to be placed on hold and enjoy the Blues Brothers rendition of the shows theme song.



About The Author: Annie Eriksen

Hi, I'm Annie. I'm a College of Wooster graduate with a degree in English, and I've worked for Rawhide since 2013. I have two cats, a chubby calico named Demeter, and an overly energetic house panther named Cosmo. I love tea, books, superheroes, traveling, and avocados.

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