The Pragmatism of a Baltimore Fireman's Uniform

By: Kristen Cnossen

In 1965, Mr. William A. Lenz donated his father’s fireman’s uniform to the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS). George Alexander Lenz, who died in September of 1922 at the age of forty-two, worked at the Engine House Number Seven at the corner of Eutaw Street and Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore City. Founded around the same time as the Baltimore government, the Engine House Number Seven remained active until the twelfth of December, 1991, when, at seven in the morning, the last bell of the firehouse could be heard ringing downtown (Kelly, 1991).

The donation to the museum included a jacket featuring six large brass buttons carrying the inscription, “CITY OF/ F.D/ BALTIMORE” as well as trousers, a cap, and a fireman's hat.

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The decorated brass buttons, marking the fairly standard men’s dark blue wool uniform as that of a Baltimore firefighter’s, are imitated in a smaller size on each sleeve cuff and each side of the fireman’s cap.

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The uniform trousers - again dark blue wool - are heavily pleated with large utilitarian pockets on both the front and back.

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The entire uniform is in excellent condition because it was worn for special occasions, not battling fire. The fireman’s hat, cataloged as part of William Lenz's donation, was unfortunately not found with the rest of the uniform. This emphasizes why what we interns are doing at MdHS is so significant; Lenz’s fireman’s hat is still in the Pratt House, with its last location in question as it predates the electronic collection management system. It is our job, now, to sift through the costumes left in Pratt House in order locate the hat.

Lenz’s uniform is an enlightening find that demonstrates the pragmatic standards of firefighter's dress uniforms in the early 20th century. Today, we identify firefighters by their characteristic yellow and red protective gear, and although said gear existed in recognizable - if archaic - forms in the 20th century (Hasenmeier, 2008), Lenz's dress uniform demonstrates another, perhaps more "professional," side of firefighting. The uniform, with its simple form and strong lines, symbolically represents the importance of the profession even when not fighting fires.

 

 

References:

Hasenmeier, Paul. "History of Firefighter Personal Protective Equipment", Fire Engineering. 2008. http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/2008/06/the-history-of-firefighter-personal-protective-equipment.html

Kelly, Jacques. “Last bell to sound for old No. 7”, The Baltimore Sun. 12 December 1991. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-12-12/news/1991346170_1_firehouse-firefighters-back-burner