0513 0583 0585 0587 0588 0604 0607 0617 0620 0626 0645 0646 0649 0767  In early 1850 a young Frenchman named Morris Greenberg and his family set sail for California to make their fortune in the gold rush. Suffering a shipwreck in the Straits of Magellan, he didn’t arrive in San Francisco until late 1851. By that time the gold rush was pretty much played out but San Francisco was becoming established as a major port city.

There wasn’t any fortune in gold waiting for young Greenberg, but the new city had a need for brass ship fittings for its burgeoning maritime industry. Having been a foundry apprentice in France, Greenberg founded the Eagle Brass Works and started a bustling enterprise serving the shipping industry.

After San Francisco’s 6th great fire in 1851, the city set about creating a reliable municipal water system. Greenberg was contracted to provide cast materials for the water works. By the 1860s Greenberg was the major provider of cast iron and brass water system components. Greenberg now operated a major foundry which incorporated and was named M. Greenberg’s Sons, Inc. in honor of his sons who were now helping run the family’s business.

San Francisco’s original fire hydrants were based on an eastern dry barrel design and cast by the Hinckley Iron Works in San Francisco. While the Hinckley design was traditional, it was not very efficient. The flood valve was slow to open and the hydrants had somewhat limited flows. Greenberg, his imagination not being polluted by traditional convention, reasoned that a 6″ pipe with one or more valves above the surface would be much more efficient for locations where freezing was not an issue. He built the first wet barrel hydrant which drew wide acceptance and was dubbed the “California hydrant.” When San Francisco rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire, every hydrant on the municipal water system was a Greenberg “California hydrant” with double 3″ outlets.

Greenberg went on to produce more types of fire hydrants than any other manufacturer, producing over a dozen distinctive models with as many as four variations within each model. One of the goals of this collection was to collect and restore a representative example of each of Greenberg’s designs in tribute to the young shipwrecked Frenchman that forever changed the Pacific coast fire service.

The 21st century is seeing forever changes as I write this blog.

Growing up in Brooklyn, some hydrants looked liked this. Some were fat and black. Now the hydrants are being prepped and resemble strange sculptures in color. Unlike in-your-face architecture, even though fire hydrants are below eye level, do you see them as public art?



barnburning44805_fullThe screams were heard above the tall trees in spite of the pounding sounds of horses hooves in the dense forest. A sudden flapping of a flock’s wings could be heard above, but not seen through the thick billowing smoke. The brigade was one line of townspeople, some filling the pails with water from the brook, others flinging the water on the barn. The bucket was passed from one stationary person to the next. It was futile, the barn burned to the ground with the animals still inside. No one was prepared for the devastation. No one knew then about the fire brigades that would be coming in the future. No one knew about fire trucks or fire hydrants.

The first hydrants were used for public water supply from the earliest municipal water systems. They resembled faucets and were at best suited for the bucket brigade method of firefighting. Prior to municipal water systems, there were other means to provide water in the event of a fire.

Iron cauldren

Iron cauldron.

Photo ©2001 Wan-i Yang

In the beginning, the original “hydrant” may have been something like this iron cauldron from China.

Firefighting cauldrons were placed in strategic locations in ancient China and kept filled with water — at the ready — in the event of a fire.

In colonial America cisterns were used to store water for early fire fighting purposes, and these continued to be used even after the introduction of the hydrant in many cities. As late as 1861, Louisville, Kentucky employed 124 cisterns but no fire hydrants. Cisterns are still used today for firefighting.

Fire cisterns are underground tanks or structures that hold water to be pumped for firefighting use. Here, a huge earthquake resistive fire cistern is being constructed in metro Tokyo as part of a larger plan of fire fighting readiness in this seismically active metropolitan region.

Photo ©2001 Tokyo Fire Department

Around 1801, the first post or pillar type hydrant was a combo hose/faucet outlet with the valve in the top. This early form of the fire hydrant was essentially a metal pipe enclosed in a wooden case. There was a valve at the bottom, with an outlet on the side, near the top. Typically, the wooden case was filled with sawdust or manure as insulation to prevent freezing in the winter, but this didn’t work very well. There was a variation on the drain invented later that allowed the water to run out of the rise after each use, in an attempt to prevent freezing. The basic idea is still used today in cold climates.

In 1802, the first order for cast iron hydrants was placed with cannon maker Foxall & Richards. In 1803, Frederick Graff Sr. introduced an improved version of the fire hydrant with the valve in the lower portion. These were inserted into wooden mains with a tapering joint. In 1811, Philadelphia claimed to have 230 wooden hydrant pumps and 185 cast iron fire hydrants.

In this close-up cropped from a copy of an N. Currier lithograph of 1854 is depicted an early cast iron “flip lid” hydrant at a fire scene in New York City; the operating nut, or in some cases, a wheel, resided under an iron lid atop the hydrant body. This was a carry-over from the wooden cased hydrants which also had lids. Flip lid hydrants were a short lived predecessor of the modern dry barrel hydrant which has it’s operating nut exposed.

N. Currier lithograph 1854

N. Currier lithograph 1854


What is notable about this painting is that it is one of the earliest color images of a fire hydrant, and depicts not the expected “fire hydrant red”, but a silver or grey body color.

Early type hydrants were encased in wood

Early type hydrants were encased in wood

This early example of the dry barrel type hydrant was made by the Union Hydraulic Works in Philadelphia, ca. 1850 (c) 2001 Ethan Kennedy

This early example of the dry barrel type hydrant was made by the Union Hydraulic Works in Philadelphia, ca. 1850 (c) 2001 Ethan Kennedy



Fire Hydrants were usually painted red at first. Here in the USA I have seen some fire hydrants that have been painted by artists. Some are just colors recognizable by the fire brigade, some are sleek shiny chrome like this one that I found in front of the Norwalk, Connecticut Public Library.

In the hot summers, do you remember running into the spewing water from the hydrant? Who turned it on?

Look for the hydrant collection next week.images-4 images-1



Protea cynaroides tropical flower of South Africa

Protea cynaroides tropical flower of South Africa that Charl pointed out to me and is the “Flower of South Africa”

I have a most unusual editor. Charlotte Firbank-King is not only a great editor, but she is also an author and does whatever else an editor does, balancing clients well (I know, I am one of them), but she is a brilliant, I mean mega brilliant, amazing, well-known, South African artist.

Charl, as she is called, has taught me about South Africa, and continues to intrigue me with bits and pieces of her land and its people, where fossils are found from millions of years ago. She has been asked to create a painting for a national show to promote Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape. I can’t wait to see what she will  paint. One of her works that she directed me to on her website, and to use, is called The Ethnic Map of Southern Africa. Her painting is meticulous and depicts the ethnic people and their villages as they are traditionally.

Ethnic Map painting by CF King.

Ethnic Mapping painting by CF King.

The map covers South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and the southern region of Mozambique. The original people of these areas are represented in their traditional dress, there are 121 human figures–each one is three+ inches (8cm) high in the original painting. The artist also included the flora and fauna relevant to each area and historical shipwrecks and buildings. The map is surrounded by a border drawing from the designs and objects of the ethnic people. Some of the more intricate sections were painted using a magnifying glass. The original work was sold in 2000 and can now be seen in the museum on Southfork Ranch, Texas, USA. The print comes with an indication map, which names all the subjects and a booklet provides information on everything in the painting. In order to purchase, please contact the artist. The website is currently being updated, prices, shopping cart, etc, and is available only for viewing. To purchase, please refer to her website link below and go to contacts to communicate with Charl.

Khoisan-woman-with-baby-in-slingThe terminology—ethnic—refers to a social group of people who have various things in common, like culture, ancestry, history, religion, dressing, physical appearance, and of course, language. Which brings me to talk about a group of people that speak with a tongue click. When Charl mentioned these people to me recently, I remembered hearing them speak when I was at the Rift Valley in East Africa visiting missionaries. The Khoisan language has click consonants. The sound is quite musical and has a rhythm. If  you want to explore further, Google Khoisan language.



There’s a perception people generally have of the indigenous people of the world, seeing them as inferior with no knowledge of what is happening in the world. It seems there is some kind of seclusion as they are looked at as uncivilized. Today, South Africa is  a country of many cultures, languages and traditions. Yet, at one time, the country was populated only by the Khoisan. Please see and hear the Khoisan people In the video link below.

The Khoisan people were hunter gatherers, living in harmony with the ecosystems of the time, a magnanimous variety of plants, and teeming game provided them with everything they needed for a harmonious life. Today, the Khoisan are a small group of nomadic hunter gatherers who still strive to live in relative harmony with nature. san women

They live in small groups and settled in beehive huts made from available materials such as twigs, grasses or reeds until resources become scarce. The search for new resources will move the group to a new site.

Men are the hunters, using bows and poison tipped arrows,  and bring home game, while the women gather wild vegetables, fruits, berries and water, as well as the materials used to provide shelter. Men are highly respected for their hunting and tracking skills and their knowledge of the natural environment. Women are equally respected for their knowledge of edible plants and abilities to find water, and especially their ability to give birth and nurture their young. Khoisan tribes who have been studied by anthropologists, has shown that not only do they have a vast knowledge of the plant and animal life, but also a sound knowledge of women’s monthly cycles according to the moon, knowledge that pregnancy occurs through sexual intercourse and knowledge of the average length of a pregnancy.

Motherhood, in Khoisan culture Bushmen, brings status and social recognition to the woman after she has navigated the journey of pregnancy and birth. Unlike our attitude in the modern world where women are offered pain relief at the slightest twinge that labor may have begun, a young Khoisan woman is actively taught that she must face the pains of natural childbirth with courage and fearlessness. Most women will give birth alone in a squatting position, a short distance from their settlement. This is regarded as ideal, although mothers giving birth for the first time may have a helper at hand.

Khoisan huts

Khoisan huts

Bringing a child into the world is a gift to the tribe and a young mother is taught that how she feels and thinks during the pregnancy will affect the labor and birth of the new baby. Other members of the group will assist by helping to carry other children or food. A pregnant woman is expected to continue with her normal duties such as gathering food, cleaning, caring for other children and should not complain. This renders a woman fit and healthy during her pregnancy – there is no room for slothfulness or overeating in this society. A pregnant woman is rarely overweight and an unborn baby is likely to grow to be the right size for the mother to give birth. After the arrival of other African tribes, the Khoisans’ hunter gatherer way of life remained predominant west of the Fish River in South Africa and in deserts throughout their region, where the drier climate precluded the growth of crops suited for warmer and wetter climates. With the arrival of the Europeans, Mediterranean crops in the 17th century became more popular with African farmers and later white Boer farmers, to spread to the rest of the country and began replacing the Khoisan population.  During the colonial era, the Khoisan survived in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Today many of the Khoisan live in parts of the Kalahari Desert where they are better able to preserve much of their culture and lifestyle.

Khoisan family

Khoisan family

It is a sad part of South African history that these vibrant and culturally-rich tribes are now almost extinct, with Khoisan culture pushed to the periphery of society. But they have left an indelible mark on Southern African society.

The distinct clicks of their language, once found nowhere else in Africa, have been incorporated into Zulu and Xhosa speech. They have also contributed to the richness of Afrikaans and South African English with words such as ‘eina’ (ouch) and ‘aikhona’ (absolutely not). And place names like Karoo and Keiskamma.

Beyond the sphere of daily chores, Khoisan traditions include snuff and makaranga tobacco. This is a very strong tobacco that is mixed with wild honey and made into a paste before being allowed to dry. In Namaqualand, traditions include distinct dress and music adapted from their heritage and early Boer influences.

What do you think of their methods of childbirth? No one seems to need to lose weight, why is that?


Have you checked out Charl’s website?

Pin It on Pinterest