Howe Fire Apparatus Company

Howe Fire Apparatus Company

The History of Howe Fire Apparatus Company

The Howe Fire Apparatus Company was an American fire apparatus manufacturer based in Anderson, IN. Founded in 1872 by Benjamin J.C. Howe in Indianapolis, IN, the company was family owned and operated by four generations until 1976. Though Howe was not a popular choice for large career fire departments, they were a favorite with the American volunteer fire service, due to their quality pumpers built on affordable commercial truck chassis.

Howe Engine Company began building manual and horse-drawn fire pumpers, but soon introduced a line of gasoline-powered pumpers mounted on horse-drawn apparatus in the late 1890s. This innovation led Howe to be one of the earliest builders of motorized apparatus in the United States, with their first automobile pumper delivered to LaRue, OH in 1905. After the expansion of automotive fire apparatus, the Howe Engine Company changed its name to the Howe Fire Apparatus Company and relocated to Anderson, IN in 1917.

Besides a fire at its manufacturing plant in 1936, Howe weathered the Great Depression relatively well. The company built nearly one thousand pumpers and trailer pumps for the US Military during World War II, and production expanded considerably in the post-war boom that followed.

The 1950s signaled a turning point for the Howe Fire Apparatus Company, as they introduced their first custom chassis pumper, the Defender. After the release of the Defender, Howe began to expand their product line even further, building aerial trucks and a cab-forward version of the Defender. Later that decade, Howe acquired Oren Roanoke Corporation of Virginia and Coast Apparatus Incorporated of California. Production ceased at Coast, but Oren became a subsidiary of Howe and continued to operate under its own name.

In 1972, Howe celebrated its centennial, reveling in the fact that they were still family owned and operated. However, four years later, the Howe family sold the Howe Fire Apparatus Company to Grumman Allied Industries for their new Emergency Products Division. Apparatus produced by Grumman were badged with Howe and Oren branding until the 1980s. Grumman’s Emergency Products Division was terminated in 1992, forever closing the door on the Howe Fire Apparatus Company.