This Month in History – The Competition Heats Up June 18, 1884

In June 1884, members of Wilmington’s Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1–who were also called the Little Giants after their steam engine—traveled to New Bern. The Wilmington company–along with the Eclipse Steam Fire Engine Company of Goldsboro–were invited to New Bern to participate in a “friendly contest of fire apparatus” with two Goldsboro companies.

The firemen boarded a special train with their engine, the Little Giant. They were accompanied by Wilmington’s mayor, Edward D. Hall, and “a band of seventeen musicians.” The fireman’s parade and water throwing contest took place on the morning of June 18, 1884. Each fire company competed to get “…the first water thrown fifty feet from the nozzle, through fifty feet of hose, making one hundred feet from the machine.” To throw water, the companies first needed to create steam. It took the Little Giant’s crew four minutes and twenty-six seconds to begin to stream water from their hose, and their engine threw water the required distance before the others in the competition. That night, New Bern’s firemen awarded the Wilmington crew with a “beautiful silver trumpet.”

Firemen’s hailing trumpets were used to amplify voice commands at fire scenes. These functional objects became a symbol of leadership, and some were heavily engraved, making them a unique treasure. The trumpet the Little Giants won in 1884 is highly engraved with designs of flowers, a fire helmet, ladders, and the names of the crew who won it – Foreman E. G. Parmale, First Assistant Foreman W. C. Von Glahn, Second Assistant Foreman M. Newman, and Engineer E. W. Manning.

After celebrating their win, the Wilmington Steam Fire Engine Company came home. They arrived at the train depot at 8:35 pm on June 19 and were met by a large crowd.  A second home town celebration was led by members of Wilmington’s other white fire companies—the Howard Relief Steam Fire Engine Company and the Wilmington Hook and Ladder Company—who turned out in full-dress uniform. The assembled firemen and dignitaries marched from the train depot, down to Front and Market, then up to Fourth Street and to the Little Giant Hall. The sidewalks were lined with “enthusiastic spectators.” Some businesses and residences were “brilliantly illuminated,” lanterns were strung along the route, and “the Cornet Concert Club added attractiveness to the cheerful scene by the sweet strains of music.” At the hall, they had another meal, again with speeches and toasts.

Volunteer fire companies like the Wilmington Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1 were a product of the ways firefighting changed during the 19th century. In the 1700s, firefighting was a communal act, and each Wilmington household was required to have leather fire buckets on hand to help fight fires. In the 1800s, as hose and engines lowered the need for labor, male residents began organizing into companies to fight fires. Wilmington’s first volunteer fire-fighting companies organized before the Civil War. After the war, Black and white men organized themselves into separate Black and white fire companies to help protect the city from fire. In 1869, Wilmington acquired its first steam-powered fire engine, and it was operated by the Wilmington Steam Fire Engine Company. By 1884, when the Little Giants won their trumpet, three steam engines operated in the city.

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Previous Columns

April: The Kenan Memorial Fountain gets a facelift, April 14, 2005
Women’s History Month, March 8
January 2022:
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone, January 30, 1917
October 3, 1961, the Battleship North Carolina arrives at its final mooring place
September 19, 1906
Exploring New Hanover County’s Green Book sites
A popularity contest, July 1915
The Competition Heats Up June 18, 1884
A New Hospital is dedicated, May 7, 1967
The First Earth Day, 1970
Women and the Wilmington Museum of Art
African Americans Working on the Railroad
January 2021:
January 9, 1861
Holiday Gifts
November 11, 1918 – Armistice is Signed
Fire Prevention Week, October 8 through 14, 1972
Neal Thomas’s One-Man Show, September 13, 1958
August 26, 1920 – the Women’s Suffrage Amendment is officially ratified 
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
D-Day, Henry Jay MacMillan, and World War II
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The Kenan Memorial Fountain gets a facelift, April 14, 2005
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January 2020:
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Silver hailing trumpet, 1884
Gift of William and Katherine Von Glahn

Fireman William C. Von Glahn, about 1890
Gift of William C. Von Glahn
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382
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