‘Colonial Firefighting & The American Revolution’ Opens at NYC Fire Museum




Image courtesy of the New York City Fire Museum

The New York City Fire Museum today announced the launch of a new exhibition, Colonial Firefighting & the American Revolution, which presents the untold story of a group of volunteers, the colonial FDNY, that stood between New York and disaster during years of rampant arson, wars for North America, and the American Revolution.

The exhibition will be on display from March 15, 2023, to August 13, 2023, and feature multimedia, video animations, and 3D models that illustrate the major events of the colonial era, including a breathtaking video-animation of the devastating fire in 1776 that destroyed 500 buildings – homes, churches, schools, stores, and factories.

Image courtesy of the New York City Fire Museum

Among the artifacts on display are original artworks that depict the Wall of Wall Street, the first fire engines, 1770 New York neighborhoods, and maps as New York City grew. Together the art, the artifacts, and the animations re-create the life of New York in the maelstrom of the American Revolution.

“We are excited to work with such incredible partners to present this multi-month exhibition about the earliest days of firefighting in Colonial America,” said Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the New York City Fire Museum. “Fire history buffs and general audiences alike are sure to be intrigued as they learn more about this fascinating piece of New York history, on full display in our second-floor exhibit hall, coupled with a program about the Great New York Fire of 1776 with an esteemed moderator and panelists on March 21st.”

“This exhibit tells the story of the people of New York in the city’s first century as they fought fires, saved lives, and protected their homes and livelihoods,” said Bruce Twickler, whose company, Docema, organized the exhibit in conjunction with Sean Britton, the Fire Museum’s Curator and Collections Manager. “We’ve used some multimedia along with the museum’s great period pieces to bring the major events of the colonial era to life to enrich the experience for all who visit the New York City Fire Museum.”

Image courtesy of the New York City Fire Museum

The first 1,000 attendees who visit the exhibition will receive a free copy of a celebration booklet about the exhibition.

Special Private Viewing and Panel Discussion on March 21 ~ As part of the exhibition, the Museum will host a private viewing and special panel discussion, The Great New York Fire of 1776, describing how it started, how it was fought, and who was to blame for the devastation and suffering it caused. The free event includes a private viewing at 5:30 PM followed by a program at 6:00 PM.

Revolutionary-era Manhattan was a chaotic scene of American Loyalists, British troops, Patriot spies, and thousands of New Yorkers seeking to weather the maelstrom of the Revolution. In the 1730s, the colonial legislature of New York officially created a fire department, giving birth to today’s FDNY. In 1776, as Washington withdrew from the city and the British rushed in, those firefighters had to choose – fight for the Patriot cause, fight for the British, or keep fighting fires in the city as they had for forty years.

They did not have long to make their decision. Just days after the British took control of the city, September 21, 1776, a fire broke out at the tip of the island. By daybreak, it had consumed five hundred buildings, the most destructive fire in colonial North America. The British claimed the fire was set by Patriot arsonists while the American Congress asserted Patriot innocence. Even today, controversy surrounds who started the fire and why.

Bruce Wickler, whose company, Docema, organized this exhibit in conjunction with The Fire Museum. He is the author of the recent book ‘New York Firefighting and the American Revolution’. He also wrote & directed the acclaimed PBS documentaries, ‘Damrell’s Fire’ and ‘Broadside’.

The event will be moderated by Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University, and author of two cultural narratives of New York, Crossing Broadway and The Voice of the City, and feature the following panelists:

  • Benjamin Carp – author of the just published The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution, is the Daniel M. Lyons Professor of American History at Brooklyn College and teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

  • Bruce Twickler – author of the recent book, New York Firefighting and the American Revolution, wrote and directed the acclaimed PBS documentaries, Damrell’s Fire and Broadside.

  • Gary Urbanowicz – Honorary Assistant Chief and FDNY historian, former Executive Director of the New York City Fire Museum, author of Badges of the Bravest and co-author of The Last Alarm, and host of the popular monthly podcast, “Throwback FDNY” available on nycfiremueum.org and popular streaming networks.

Registration is required. Anyone wishing to attend should RSVP at  https://www.nycfiremuseum.org/greatfire1776

Visiting the New York City Fire Museum:

COVID Information: The Museum advises that mask-wearing is optional for employees, members, and general visitors.

Hours of Operation ~ Open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 AM to 5 PM

Advance ticketing preferred; walk-ins welcome

Admission Prices:

Advance tickets are preferred for General Admission:

  • $10.00 for Adults

  • $8.00 for Students, Seniors, Firefighters, AAA members, Federally Disabled (with ID)

  • $5.00 for Children

Free admission – with valid ID – for:

  • New York City Fire Museum, Museum Council and Cool Culture members

  • Active and Retired FDNY and NYPD members

  • Active and Retired US Military service members

About the New York City Fire Museum ~ The mission of the New York City Fire Museum is to collect, preserve and present the history and cultural heritage of the fire service of New York and to provide fire prevention and safety education to the public, especially children. New York City Fire Museum is located at 278 Spring Street, NYC.