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1873 Silsby Rotary Steam Pumper,

Sold for US$100,000 inc. premium
Lot 205¤
1873 Silsby Rotary Steam Pumper,

1873 Silsby Rotary Steam Pumper,

Silsby Manufacturing Company Seneca Falls, NY

A steam powered rotary pump driving a geared water pump with 600gph pumping capability (approximate). A magnificent machine from the "Golden Age" of the fire apparatus. Highly complete and authentic with a spectacular dome mounted original lamp, this is an icon of American manufacturing prowess.

The American Industrial Revolution ushered rapid growth and development in the latter half of the 19th century. Factories, mills, and foundries were springing up all over the country. With these new facilities and the often huge work forces they employed, new sophisticated fire suppression techniques and machinery were needed.

Many of these large factory complexes had their own private fire companies, often a requirement of their underwriters to protect their work force and assets. Today's building codes, sprinklers, and fire resistant materials were not even considered, so fires were especially disastrous and unfortunately all too common.

The answer to that problem was more professional and better equipped fire companies. The standard company practice had always been the employment of hand pulled, manually operated fire pumpers. These surprisingly effective machines were, to say the least, difficult on the firemen. The men were often forced to hand pump a machine for hours as the same team would also try to put the fire out.

The development of practical steam power for both factories and locomotives had shown steam technology to be reliable and effective. Numerous manufacturers began to adapt this steam power system to a portable water pumping engine. The challenge, however, was not an easy one. To effectively control the fires they were faced with, these machines would need to have tremendous pumping power. The ability to project high volumes of water at a great distance required a great deal of energy.

A boiler and engine equivalent in size to a small locomotive would be needed. The problem was that this would be heavy and slow to "fire up". As opposed to hand pulling the pumps to the scene, horses would be needed to pull the heavy pumpers. When a city pumper was dispatched the residents would stop and observe the beautifully decorated and polished machine billowing black smoke behind a team of finely groomed horses. This image is no doubt why this era of firefighting is so special.

Silsby Manufacturing Company designed and built their first Steam Fire Engine in 1856. The company was founded in 1845 and ran through 1890. Their first engine weighed 10,000 pounds and was a marvel of the day. Over the course of steam engine history no other company manufactured more steam operated fire engines than Silsby. Producing well over 1,000 steam powered fire engines, Silsby introduced original and effective technology into the production of steam engines that was challenged by the constructors of the day. The Silsby machines went through nine model changes and today about two dozen of the 1000+ made, survive – mostly in museum collections.
This truly spectacular Silsby Pumper is exceptional for both its scale and presence and its wonderful authenticity and completeness. A close inspection shows that the details are all correct, and that this is a machine that has not been tinkered with by amateurs.

It wears the livery of the Keystone Fire Company and engine #1, complete with the motto: "When duty calls 'tis ours to obey"

A plate that refers to the pumper's rebuild by American Fire Company, the fire conglomerate that Silsby was merged into with American LaFrance, is present. This rebuild was done while the machine was in company service. It does show evidence of some restoration work–likely paint done in the 1950s but it would not be surprising if the brightwork was still original. There is no evidence that this machine has ever been neglected or left to weather outside. A good cleaning and polishing should restore it to its full magnificent appearance.

Great fire pumpers are rare things and exceptional examples seldom come to market. The chance to acquire such a lovely and well-preserved machine such as this Silsby is a special opportunity indeed.

Offered on a Bill of Sale.
Without reserve

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  • 9 May 2014, 09:00 - 18:00 EDT
  • 10 May 2014, 09:00 - 11:00 EDT

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¤Without reserve
Lot to be sold without reserve.

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