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THE STORY OF "OLD BRODERICK":
FIRST FIRE ENGINE BUILT IN CALIFORNIA, 1855

Written by Marcia Tucker, of the Fireman's Fund Public Relations Department and published by The Book Club of California in 1961. It is the first of twelve brochures in a series titled "Early California Firehouses and Equipment."

A visiting fireman vacationing in British Columbia made a discovery that brought back to San Francisco one of its earliest and most colorful citizens - Broderick No. 1, the first fire engine built in California.

Weather-worn and stripped of its brass trim by souvenir hunters, "Old Broderick" was found by a Daly City volunteer fireman in a park in the town of Kelowna, B. C. The find was reported and in 1947 the old hand-drawn pumper was bought and returned to its home city with pomp and parade. Its new owner: another San Francisco native Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. Now, brightly painted and newly fitted, the engine stands on public display in The Fund's main lobby, the center of the company's. J. B. Levison Memorial Collection of early firefighting equipment.

The discovery and return of this doughty veteran of San Francisco's volunteer days disclosed a story to delight the heart of any fire buff. It is a story of youth and bright triumph, decline, disuse, indifference... then recognition, a new paint job and green pastures. This, then, is the story of "Old Broderick"...

In the spring of 1855, San Franciscans watched with interest the activity in the Pine Street shop of William E. Worth, patternmaker. Mr. Worth had designed and was now supervising the construction of a fire engine for Empire Engine Company No. 1, the first volunteer company in San Francisco.

The new engine was to be of elegant design and superior strength. Weighing some 3,000 pounds, it was to have brakes so effective "near forty men can be put upon them at once." Two eight-and-one-half-inch cylinders fitted with patent air-discharging valves invented by Mr. Worth would enable it to throw two streams of water. And its box was to be built of tamanu, a rare wood from the South Seas.

But whatever the particulars of its construction, one quality of the new engine stood out above all others: this was to be the first fire engine built in California. Previously, California fire companies had sent to what the 31st state continued to call "the States" for their engines. Foundries in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore or New York filled the orders and the equipment was shipped to the west coast around the Horn.

San Francisco was noticeably proud of this further sign of its coming of age. "The entire work, from linch-pin to shaft, was accomplished in this city," the San Francisco Herald triumphantly announced. "The bed-plate was cast at the Vulcan Foundry, and is without flaw or blemish of any description. The pumps, which are of the most complete and beautiful finish, were cast at the Pacific Foundry." After one of the engine's early trials, the Fireman's Journal reported, "When No. 1 has been worked for six months, she will be equal to any engine of the like character on this coast... the idea of sending to the States for apparatus for this Fire Department is simply ridiculous."

The several trials of the new engine were watched with interest by the press as well as by the company's many fans. The Fireman's Journal records that "The members of Empire Engine Company No. 1 tested their new apparatus on Monday last, at the corner of Montgomery and California streets..."among the results: "through 200 feet of hose, 1 inch nozzle, 170 feet; two streams through of an inch nozzle, 25 feet over Wells, Fargo and Co.s building."

Four years later, with the death of U. S. Senator David C. Broderick, Empire Engine Company No. 1 took on a new name. Broderick, killed in the famous duel with former California Chief Justice David S. Terry, had been the company's first foremen. In his memory, his old comrades changed the company name to Broderick Engine Company No. 1, carving the name "Broderick" on the superstructure of their engine.

The engine "Broderick" served San Francisco well, but soon fell victim to time and the steam engine. In 1882 it was sold to the town of Yale, B. C. and on arrival was pronounced by a somewhat reserved press as "a substantial kind" that had "doubtless done good work in its day." The engine was resold in 1894 to the town of Vernon and in 1904 to Kelowna.

It can be expected that by that time "Old Broderick" had developed a certain independence of mind. After a brush fire in 1906, the Kelowna paper reported, not a little bitterly, that the old engine "refused to work as long as it was needed. When the danger was practically over, it graciously consented to be employed, which shows how much reliability can be put in it."

So "Old Broderick" was finally retired to Kelowna's town park where for many years it endured the wear and tear of weather, souvenir collectors and small boys shoes. But recognition was to come. After its purchase by The Fund in time for California's centennial celebrations, the old pumper was welcomed back to San Francisco by a flurry of press notices, a parade down Montgomery and California streets and a formal welcome from Mayor Roger D. Lapham. "Old Broderick" had come home.

The engine can be seen by the public any weekday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at The Fund's home office, 3333 California street. A footnote to the "Old Broderick" story: the engine's place of retirement in Laurel Heights is in sight of the original grave of its namesake. David C. Broderick was buried nearby in what was Lone Mountain Cemetery.

[Fireman's Fund Archives: 6-3-0-1-1; 1208.]



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