Brain Pickings

The First Book of Firemen, 1951


A whimsically illustrated vintage homage to the men and women of The Red Menace.

“If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity,” professed mid-century writer and illustrator Jeanne Bendick, who tirelessly bridged the gender gap in science through the dozens of children’s books about science and technology. Though Bendick both wrote and illustrated many of them — like her endlessly wonderful 1953 cosmic primer, The First Book of Space Travel — she also did artwork for stories by other writers. Such is the case of the equally delightful 1951 gem The First Book of Firemen (public library) — a whimsically illustrated homage to the men and women of The Red Menace, written by Benjamin Brewster and researched in close collaboration with the New York City Fire Department.

From a taxonomy of firemen’s tools to the evolution of firefighting techniques to an anthropological tour of firefighters around the world, this vintage treat is at once a charmingly illustrated time-capsule of a bygone era and a timeless tribute to the heroic vocation countless little kids dream about.

Though long out of print — as is the fate of a sad many vintage gems — used copies of The First Book of Firemen can be found here and there, or borrowed from your local library.

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