Fire Alarm Telegraph

As early as the mid-1840s, telegraph systems were being used in large cities to transmit locations of fires and coordinate fire responses. These systems used keys, relays, and registers, much like the Morse telegraph systems we are familiar with. However, they were not used to send Morse Code messages, but rather they sent simple codes to identify the location in the city in which a fire was occurring.


The largest company making fire alarm telegraph equipment was the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co, formed in 1879 by John N. Gamewell. Other companies include Conrad-Young (Baltimore), Utica Fire Alarm Co, Western Electric, and JH Bunnell.


Many fire alarm keys have camelback style levers, which fool many beginning collectors into thinking the keys are very old, when in fact they were most likely made in the very late 19th to early 20th century.


Other than the camelback style levers, other attributes that are common to fire alarm keys are:

Fire alarm relays are also unique in appearance. Many have multiple contacts or multiple “legs” protruding from the bottom of table-mounted relays. Some have heavy brass bases rather than wooden bases. Others have a bell (called a Gong) attached to a post on the base so an incoming signal can be heard.

Below are some pictures of fire alarm keys, relays, and registers from the 19th and 20th centuries. Click on each thumbnail to view the full size image:

 

Very Early Camelback Fire Alarm Key by Palmer & Hall, Boston. Ca. Late 1840's Front View of the Palmer & Hall Fire Alarm Key Another View of the Palmer & Hall Key Showing the Name Stamp Camelback Fire Alarm Key by Gamewell. Key Mounts Vertically on the Wall
Another Wall-Mounted Fire Alarm Key. Maker Unknown Another Unknown Maker Wall-Mounted Fire Alarm Key Camelback Fire Alarm Key by Conrad Young, Baltimore, Maryland Fire Alarm Key With Locking Lever to Prevent Accidental Keying. Possibly Made by Western Electric
Fire Alarm Key by Western Electric. Similar Style As the Lewis Key Unusual Fire Alarm Camelback Key. Maker Unknown Close-Up of the Upper Part of the Key Unknown Maker Camelback Fire Alarm Key
Fire Alarm Relay by Gamewell Another Gamewell Fire Alarm Relay Ornate Fire Alarm Relay by Western Electric Another View of the Western Electric Fire Alarm Relay
       
Fire Alarm Key, Gong, and Relay by Conrad Young, Baltimore Maryland Another Fire Alarm Key, Gong, and Relay. Maker Unknown Another View of the Key, Gong, and Relay Showing the Tiny Key Fire Alarm Box Relay and Key by Western Electric
Another View of the Western Electric Fire Alarm Box Relay Set The Underside of the Western Electric Box Relay Showing the Connection Posts Fire Alarm Register by Gamewell Close-Up of the Gamewell Nameplate
Another Gamewell Fire Alarm Register Close-Up of the Gamewell Nameplate Close-Up of the Clockwork Mechanism A Gamewell Fire Alarm Call Box
Another View of the Gamewell Fire Alarm Call Box Fire Alarm Pen Register by JH Bunnell, NY Bunnell Pen Register Nameplate Early Fire Alarm Repeater by Gamewell
Another Gamewell Fire Alarm Repeater in a Glass Case The Same Fire Alarm Repeater Removed From the Case A Very Complex Gamewell Fire Alarm Repeater Another Very Complex Gamewell Fire Alarm Repeater

 

 

 

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You can reach me at telegraphdude@comcast.net