History of the Fire Mark


Published: March 27, 2019

Fighting fire evolved after the Great Fire of London swept through the central parts of the city from Sunday, September 2nd to Thursday, September 6th, 1666. After this fire, London created an insurance system and fire companies. A fire mark is a metal plaque that was attached to the building after the property owner purchased fire insurance. The fire mark would identify not only which buildings were insured but by which company.

Fire marks were used in the U.S. from about 1750 to around the 1900. There were no municipal fire departments in the early days of the United States, rather fire brigades that were often owned by the insurance companies. The fire brigades only responded to property that were insured but in time, that would change. Uninsured property that would catch fire could threaten nearby insured property and therefore, there was a benefit to fighting the fire of uninsured property.

In other cities, the fire brigades were independent companies and competitors of each other. Whichever brigade was able to claim the fire would receive the insurance payout. One way to stake the claim was to be the first brigade to place a ladder on the burning structure. Fire companies would have specific employees assigned to placing the ladder and to prevent the competing company from doing so. There are stories that brigades would get into physical fights in the front yard as the structure burned.

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