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Fire Museum of Texas Collection

Identifier: AC-300

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains approximately 994 photographs, featuring scenes of firefighting in Beaumont, Texas. The Museum received these photographs from various donors over the years, and then donated them to the Tyrrell Historical Library. The photographs primarily document Beaumont's firefighting service, although the collection also includes photographs from other areas of Texas.

Many photographs depict the firefighting equipment used throughout the years, giving a fascinating look into the evolution of the equipment, especially the fire trucks. Images of Beaumont's fire stations and firemen are also included.

Photographs of particular interest include those taken immediately after the Texas City disaster of April 16, 1947. At least 581 people were killed after massive explosions occurred on the SS Grandcamp, docked at Texas City. These photographs show the total devastation of the city which resulted from the explosions. Likewise, the collection holds a few photographs of the aftermath of the New London School natural gas explosion of March 18, 1937, which killed more than 295 students, and is the worst catastrophe to take place in a school in the United States. Other photographs include portraits of Beaumont's fire chiefs, and the fire marshals of Texas. The collection also holds class photographs of Beaumont's fire academy from the 1970's through to the early 1990's, and of the training exercises used in the academy. The outreach efforts of the department are depicted, including parades, fair displays, and other educational events.

This collection also includes a series of portraits of the presidents of the Texas State Firemen's Association, from 1876 to 1976. In addition, it holds call logbooks from the Beaumont Fire Department, dating from 1925 to 1973. These logbooks record each time the Fire Department was called out to extinguish a fire. Each entry tells the date of the call, the location of the call, the type of structure, the cause of the fire, and the amount of damage that occurred.


  • Creation: 1885-1993


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Access Restrictions

Some restrictions may apply.


The Tyrrell Historical Library holds copyright. The researcher must secure permission to publish. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to the Tyrrell Historical Library. The researcher assumes full responsibility for complying with copyright, literary property rights, and libel laws.

Historical Note

The Fire Museum of Texas opened in 1984 in Beaumont, Texas, with the mission of preserving and celebrating the history of firefighting in Texas. Its collections emphasize not only the history of firefighting and firefighters, but also fire safety and fire prevention education. In 1986, the Museum was recognized by the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas as the state's official fire museum. Much of the Museum's collections were donated to it by the Beaumont Fire Department.

The first fire department of Beaumont was established on December 19, 1881, a few months after a large lumberyard fire. A citizens' committee vote created Beaumont Fire Company No. 1, which had sixteen volunteer members. Its first rotary pump arrived in 1882, and two deep wells were dug in 1884. Ed C. Ogden served as the first recorded fire chief of the city, and the fire department expanded along with the city over the following years. Its necessity was made clear in the months following the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901, as several oil fires broke out on the hill, requiring all of the department's skill to extinguish.

In 1906, Stephen Douglas O'Conner joined the fire department. He rose through the ranks of the department quickly, becoming a station captain in 1910, and a Lieutenant in 1913. He became Assistant Chief in 1916, and finally became Department Chief in 1918. He remained in that position for thirty-eight years, until 1956. He oversaw the transition from horses to motorized vehicles during his time as Chief, and led the department through the boom that accompanied the discovery of "Second Spindletop" in 1925.

Shortly after this second boom, Johnny Southwell, the city's electrician, designed and installed the first traffic signal in Beaumont, and an underground cable for the police department telegraph system. A few years later, he also built the police and fire radio communications system, the seventh such system in the United States. Southwell played a significant role in redesigning the traffic patterns of Beaumont, a long-overdue necessity. Finally, he designed and built a searchlight truck for the Fire Department, which it sent to the New London School disaster in 1937 and the Texas City disaster in 1947.

Pete Shelton, a second-generation firefighter, became the Department Chief in 1976, and turned the Department into one of the best paid departments in the United States. He helped create the Fire Museum of Texas, which is housed in the city's historic Central Fire Station. Today, Chief Anne Huff, the first female Chief in Beaumont, leads the Fire Department, which boasts twelve fire stations, a 27 acre training center, and about 230 personnel.


10 Cubic Feet (10 cubic feet in 17 boxes)


This collection consists of approximately 994 photographs from the Fire Museum of Texas, which opened in 1984 in Beaumont, documenting firefighting in Southeast Texas from 1856 to 1993, with heavy emphasis on the first half of the twentieth century. The Fire Department of Beaumont was established in 1881 and images in this collection cover many aspects of the department including firefighters, firehouses, and fire engines; fires and local buildings damaged by fire; fire prevention demonstrations and other events; and damages from non-fire related disasters such as hurricanes. There are also a few images from the Texas City Disaster of 1947 and the New London School explosion of 1937.

Organization of Collection

This collection is organized into three series within 57 boxes. Folders in the Photographs series are labelled according to the original catalog number of each photograph, as originally assigned by the Fire Museum.

  1. Photographs
  2. Call Logbooks
  3. Accretion of 2013 February

Acquisition Information

Donated by the Fire Museum of Texas, 2010.


Further accruals are expected.


"Beaumont Fire Department History." Accessioned 08 January 2013.

Processing Information

Processed by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 2010.

Finding aid revised and encoded by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 2013 January.

Finding Aid for the Fire Museum of Texas Collection, 1885-1993
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Tyrrell Historical Library Archives Repository