Steering Wheel From Fire Truck, American La France Or Fire Engine, 1937
Steering Wheel From Fire Truck, American La France Or Fire Engine, 1937

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Collection Tier:
Tier 3

Transportation ➔ Steering Wheel From Fire Truck, American La France Or Fire Engine, 1937

This black steering wheel is from a 1937 American LaFrance (ALF) fire truck that served the city of Grand Rapids and starred in local parades. Early automobiles didn't have steering wheels. Instead, they used tillers, similar to boats, that guided the front wheels of the vehicle. The world’s first circular wooden steering wheel was recorded in 1894 when Alfred Vacheron’s customized Panhard competed in the world’s first motorized car race from Paris to Rouen. For more than forty years, these simple circles remained unchanged until the 1940s turned them into power-steering systems. Cruise control switches were added in the 1960s and the 1990s brought buttons for handling the computer, music, and more, shaping this part into the steering wheel of today.   

American LaFrance was established in 1873 when Truckson LaFrance and his partners began building hand-drawn, horse-drawn, and steam-powered engines in Elmira, New York. ALF produced its first motorized fire truck in 1907. Later versions were outfitted with chemical engines, combination pumpers, and aerial ladders. Though no longer in service (as of January 17, 2014), this industry icon ignited innovation with its cab-forward classical frame which still remains the model for today’s modern trucks. Now fire engines are equipped with blaring sirens, flashing lights, two-way radios, mobile computers, and life-saving medical supplies.
Current Location Status:
Education Program
Gift Of City Of Grand Rapids Fire Department

Discovery Cart: A is for Autos (February 4 2020)
Discovery Carts connect visitors to Museum exhibits through hands-on exploration of objects in the Collection. Knowledgeable Discovery Cart facilitators engage guests with interactive activities and discussion questions during GRPM's open hours.
[Discovery carts are offered on a rotating schedule depending on facilitator availability]

Virtual Discovery Kit: A is for Autos (April 2020)
Automobiles take us places, from school, to work, to leisure. Learn about the history of cars, Michigan’s impact in the automobile industry, traveling and what draws people to own and drive cars.
American Record Corporation

Grand Rapids Fire Department
The Grand Rapids Fire Department was founded in 1849 after the Wendell residence on Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue burned down with nearly all its contents. Citizens approached the village council and demanded a fire brigade be established. That fall, Alert Fire Company Number 1 was established with twenty-eight members. 

Since 1849, the Grand Rapids Fire Department has grown to include eleven stations with 221 members across the city.