FireCompFinal1 - The story of the Fire Companies of...

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The story of the Fire Companies of Bethlehem as told through the Bethlehem Daily Times and the Globe Times index is truly a two-part story, the context of the whole owing to the interweaving of its separate parts. The first volume being the history of the Fire Companies of Bethlehem proper, from the times of the Moravian settlement to the creation of a single and official town Fire Department. The other story is that of the Fire Companies of the borough of South Bethlehem, from the first voicing of their initial need, to the common practice that they entertained as protectors of the much more urban and industrial areas of the twin boroughs. The day to day articles voicing the opinions of not only the editors and writers of the paper, but those of the common man shine a most insightful light on the relationship between the volunteer fire companies of the day, the citizens they were sworn to protect, and the municipal government that attempted to control them (in the years prior to the unification under complete municipal control in the respective boroughs). It is important to note that although no mention is made in any of the articles about the volunteer companies receiving payment for extinguishing of fires, the practice of the time throughout the United States was that fire companies as a “House” would be given a financial reward for saving a house from fire, from the insurance companies that covered individual houses. Therefore, the mentions of men fighting or racing each other to the fires were in reference to the fact that oftentimes only the first responding fire company would receive the settlement from the insurance underwriters. Therefore a deeply entrenched feeling of camaraderie between members of the same house, and competition (although ideally friendly) with the other companies of the town arose, which had greater implications to the stories that were told though daily news 1
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articles. Much of the information regarding the early days of fire fighting in the Moravian settlement, and in the early borough of Bethlehem, can be found in an 1876 article documenting a trial dispute between the members of what was then the “old” Perseverance Fire Company. The article goes into great detail about the history of this fire company, and the information lends much insight into the early goings on: Up to the year 1843 the Moravian Society owned all the real estate in Bethlehem, and furnished its own fire apparatus. Among the latter they owned an old hand engine believed to have been built in London in 1698, which has always been called ‘The Old Hand Engine.’ ‘From 1701 to 1736 the means of extinguishing fires were principally provided by the corporation of the city (of Philadelphia). An engine made in England and owned by Abraham Bickley, and which is supposed to be in existence at Bethlehem, was purchased by the corporation for £50 in 1718.’ The Moravian Society in 1845, the year when the Borough of Bethlehem was incorporated, ceded all the rights to fire hooks and ladders to the borough. The
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FireCompFinal1 - The story of the Fire Companies of...

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