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Harold Brown Adkinson, Indianapolis Fire Department photograph collection

Identifier: P012

Scope and Contents

This collection comprises over 900 photographs collected by Harold Brown Adkinson in Indianapolis, Indiana ranging from 1874 to 1939, include images fire trucks and other vehicles, fire stations, group photos, fire scenes, and daily life of the Indianapolis Fire Department.


  • 1874-1939


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Harold Brown Adkinson (1906-1944) was a life-long resident of Indianapolis and a graduate of Arsenal Technical High School. He joined the Fire Department in 1934 and was eventually assigned to Station #12 on Sherman Drive.

On December 16, 1944, Adkinson was part of a crew on a routine test run of Engine #20. The vehicle apparently slid on some ice and ran into a car, overturning the engine. Chauffeur Hubert S. Toombs died at the scene and Adkinson, who was standing on the back step of the engine, was thrown from the vehicle. He died from his injuries five days later.

Historical Note

Founded on June 20, 1826, Indianapolis' first fire department was comprised of local volunteers equipped only with ladders and leather buckets, using a church bell as an alarm. The first fire engine, nicknamed "Marion," was acquired in 1835 and from the establsihed bucket company, the Marion Fire, Hose, and Protection Company emerged. There were 8 volunteer companies by 1859.

When the volunteer firemen proved political and uncontrollable, the city passed an ordinace to create a paid force on November 14, 1859, which would be named the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD). The department started wtih two hand engines and one hook and ladder company, before receiving three steam engines in 1860. In 1870, the Mile Square in downtown Indianapolis gained 15 miles of pipes and water mains. During this period, firement lived in the firehouses. Indianapolis firefighters were identified by badges and later leather hats, until they were uniformed in 1874, with regulation uniforms adopted in 1928.

The department grew rapidly after the U.S. Civil War. In 1877, 79 firefighters used 11 hose reels, 7 steamers, and 2 hook and ladder companies. Technological advancements led to improved alarm systems, with the first electric alarm system installed in 1868. Telephones were added in 1880.

The first African American fire company was formed in 1876. Segregation of Indianapolis' fire stations purportedly ended on January 1, 1960. By 1974, a little over half the stations were integrated and Joseph Kimbrew became the first Black fire chief 13 years later on January 19, 1987. The first female firefighted was Bryona Slaughter, also Black, who was hired in 1978.

By 1909, IFD employed 264 firemen and possessed 12 engines, 27 hose reel wagons, 4 chemical engines, 10 hook and ladder companies, and 121 horses. After 1901, the old electric alarms were replaced with a Gamewell system of 280 pull boxes and were in use until 1955. Until 1929, new firemen learned on the job at their assigned stations. Standards improved after wWorld War II.

The IFD began shifting from horse-drawn to motor vehicles in 1908. By 1921, the departmetn was entirely motorized, with the last horse being sold in 1928.


Doherty, William and Elizabeht J. Van Allen. "Indianapolis Fire Department. The Polis Center, Indiana University Pudue University Indianapolis. Accessed April 16, 2021.


2 Cubic Feet (9 small oversize boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged by subject.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation from the Adkinson family.


No further additions are expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available digitally via the Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections, Harold Brown Adkinson Fire Photograph Collection:

Related Materials

Materials relating to this collection may be found in the following collections in Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN:

L002: Harold Brown Adkinson papers

P011: Harold Brown Adkinson steamboat photograph collection

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2021/04/19 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2021/04/19 by Brittany Kropf.
Harold Brown Adkinson, Indianapolis Fire Department photograph collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.