The largest artifact in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society is a nine-ton fire engine. When the Clapp & Jones steam pumper was first purchased by the Hartford Fire Department, it was drawn by three big fire horses. In 1914, when the fire department was becoming motorized, the old pumper was fitted with a gas-electric tractor, prolonging its working life. It saw service in major Hartford fires for more than four decades.
Fire engines of that era often had colorful nicknames. An early self-propelled pumper was affectionately known as “Jumbo,” because of its mammoth size. Another was called “the Pride of Hartford.” The old Clapp & Jones never appears to have had such a nickname; it’s always referred to simply as “Number One.” Jumbo and The Pride of Hartford were both sold off in the 1920s and replaced by more modern equipment, but, though retired from active service, Number One continued to be a popular feature at parades and exhibitions. During the Hurricane of 1938, it was used in an attempt to pump out the Telephone Building. Photographs show the old engine disappearing from sight as it was engulfed by the rising floodwaters.
In 2000, the Hartford Fire Department and the City of Hartford donated the Clapp & Jones steam pumper to the Connecticut Historical Society. In 2006, following restoration, it was installed in the exhibition, “History is All Around Us,” at Hartford’s Old State House, where it can still be seen today, a large and tangible piece of Hartford’s history, and a symbol of the proud traditions of Hartford’s Fire Department.