You may know a fireplug as that which is sometimes found at the corner of a city street and which is often painted red. A dog may urinate there. A fireplug has been called a fire hydrant. It comes to me that Learned Hand, the justly famous US judge, was once, figuratively, associated with the term, fireplug. I have forgotten the story, but am pretty sure that it included a dog. Read on and you may make an educated guess as to the origin of the word “fireplug” by the end of this post.
In the early US trunks and limbs of hemlock and elm trees were used to make piping to carry water from one place to another. Logs from 9 to 10 inches thick might be cut into 7- to 9-foot lengths for this purpose. Not an easy piping to use.
The men who made and laid this piping were called borers. They were named for their use of the five-foot steel auger they carried with them. In those days of 1600 to 1700s these men attracted a great deal of curious attention as they traveled from town to town to carry out their unusual craft. They also brought welcome news and gossip with them. No TV or radio in those days. Up the www!
Borers bored and formed sections of trunk so that they could tightly ram log sections together to form a length of piping. The joints were sealed with pitch, tar or resin. Sometimes a log might be split, hollowed out, bound with metal hoops, and caulked with lead. A blacksmith might help with this work. Plumbers were later named for their use of lead. Carpenters worked with a plumbob, called so because it was made of lead. Blacksmith was the name for iron-workers to distinguish them from goldsmiths, silversmiths, bronzesmiths, etc.
Water was tapped from the bored trunks by a smaller auger and then stopped with a wooden plug.
The city of Boston was one of the earliest places in the US to have a real waterworks. That waterworks probably went online in about 1652. In those days nearly every house as of wood and had an open-hearth fireplace. Fire was a major danger. So the first waterworks were for both domestic and fire fighting use.
Have you made a guess of the origin of the word fireplug? At first it a hole drilled into the side of one of those log pipes at a strategic point. A wooden plug was used to stop/plug that hole. A fireman could then remove the plug when and where the water was needed to fight a fire. Thus fireplug!
Now you can get a ticket for parking your car in front of one on a city street. That short red pipe-looking thing, sometimes attractive to dogs, sometimes called a fire hydrant, and still often called a fireplug, is that of which you now know the origin.
That last awkward sentence and all of this post was written
by Richard Sheehan
for Mago Bill.