Online Exhibit: The Firefighters Collection

The New York State Library has one of the most extensive collections of historic resources on the individual fires, firefighters and firefighting equipment of New York State. The slideshow below is just a small sampling of images from the Firefighter Collection, which includes photos and historic documents dating from the 1880s through 1930s. Note: The slideshow requires Javascript.

Images from the Collection

  • Albany Fire Protectives - Group Portrait

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    The Albany Fire Protectives worked for the Albany Board of Underwriters, salvaging buildings and their contents following a fire.

    Black-and-white photo of seven firemen in old-fashioned uniforms.
  • Albany Fire Protectives

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    Albany Fire Protectives in the street.

    Black-and-white photo of fire protectives in the street.
  • Early fire engine

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    A rendering of the first fire engine manufactured in the U.S. (18th century) from "Ye Olde Fire Laddies" by Herbert Asbury, 1930.

    drawing of an old-fashioned, wooden fire carriage.
  • "Giving Succor to the Victims of a Fire. A Scene in Engine 5's House."

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    An illustration from "Reminischences of the Old Fire laddies and Volunteer Fire Departments of New York and Brooklyn," 1885, by J. Frank Kernan.

    A drawing of firemen helping women and children who were victims of a fire.
  • "Let her go"

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    An illustration of a fireman pulling a hose carriage from The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of the City of New York, by George W. Sheldon. New York, Harper & Bros, 1882.

    Drawing of a fireman pulling a hose carriage.


Dr. Thomas S. Walsh, Jr. Firefighting Collection

Among the Library's firefighting resources, the single largest collection, and one of the largest in the entire state, is the Dr. Thomas S. Walsh, Jr. Firefighting Collection. A prominent Albany surgeon, Dr. Walsh pursued the study and collection of material on the history of firefighting as a hobby for more than half a century. Books, periodicals, manuscripts, photographs, equipment catalogues and ephemera represent in detail the history of firefighting technology in the United States and Great Britain, including a full record of the development of firefighting equipment and hardware from the 19th century to the present.

The books (the oldest dating back to the 1600s), journals and historic documents in this collection include:

  • 19th century magazines like Harper's Weekly and Leslie's Illustrated Weekly featuring stories and pictures of famous fires;
  • constitutions and by-laws of some 18th and 19th century volunteer fire companies, including the original 1793 copy of the constitution of the New York City Fire Department, complete with blackened edges from the 1911 Capitol fire;
  • broadsides and musical scores about particular fires and fire departments;
  • an old scrapbook with 100-year-old photos of firemen, equipment and fires;
  • catalogs of the beautiful engines produced by Seagraves, American LaFrance and other manufacturers; and
  • minute books and other records of companies from Buffalo to Albany.

A list of books in the New York State Library donated by Dr. Walsh.

The Dr. Thomas S. Walsh, Jr. Firefighting Collection is available for research and study in the Manuscripts and Special Collections Research Room.

The Capitol Fire

Perhaps it's no surprise that the New York State Library has such a focus on firefighting, since the Library was itself saved by firefighters from the devastation of a fire that swept through the Capitol Building in March 1911. Albany City firefighters worked through that long, grueling night and into the next day to save the building that was home to the Library. Many of the historic documents and other items in the Library's collection still bear burnt and singed edges from that night.

More images: Photos of the Capitol Fire of 1911

Other Resources

Last Updated: July 13, 2011