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Testing “Motor Fire Engines” in N.Y.C., during 1913

This is a series of photos that were taken on a pier in New York City, were it appears that the city’s fire department was testing some on its early fleet of “motor fire engines”. They evidently called the engines by that name, to differentiate them from the earlier steam-powered designs, which may have also still have been in use at the time. The engines are quite interesting, as are the goings on, the spectators and what can be seen of the city in the background.


The huge engine (below) is the only one that can be identified by its “Robinson” radiator badge. If you can tells us more about the makers of the engines at the (top) and in the middle (above) please send us a comment.  The Robinson’s monster six-cylinder engine is an L-head design so large (below), that it is equipped with a gear-reduction-hand-crank starter visible just below the radiator. Photos courtesy of  The Library of Congress. 

3 responses to “Testing “Motor Fire Engines” in N.Y.C., during 1913

  1. There was an article on the restoration of a Robinson in The Antique Automobile many years ago – I remember being impressed by the scale of the components.

  2. The whole story about the testing of these fire engines can be found in the Horseless Age of September 10, 1913 from page 431. The testing of these “motor vehicle fire apparatus” on September 3 (“at the pier at the foot of West Fifty-fourth street”) was part of the Fire Exhibition, held in NY from 1 to 6 September. The car on the middle photo (EII) is a Knox (and was by the way already identified on Shorpy’s site too), the make of the two cars on the first photograph I cannot identify positively. However in the Horseless Age article a list is given of the fire engines present at the test, where we can read that there were only three makes with two vehicles present (the rest was present with only one): American La France, Nott and Robinson. The Robinson being positively identified and the American La France of the period being quite different in appearance, this reasoning leads us to the Nott. Maybe now a specialist in fire engines can make a positive identification?

  3. The “gear reduction” device with the crank attached is probably a
    spring starter. A device seen on the left top of the starter may be a ratchet
    device to release the coiled spring. I arrived at this conclusion because
    I own an Eveready Spring Starter(circa 1909) and you’d have to crank
    it 20 to 30 times for 1 rotation of the engine.There’s no way you could
    spin it fast enough to fire it when cold without the burst of power a
    tight spring could afford you.

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