GEORGE C. HALE
There is nothing more important to the welfare of a city or more effective, than the preservation of property as well as life, the chief institution for which purpose is a well equipped and conducted fire department; and the man who successfully fills the position of chief must possess keen foresight, unbounded energy and an alertness and readiness to respond at every call. Of no department has Kansas City more reason to be proud than her fire department, which in its proficiency, equipments and the skill of its members is almost without a peer. Standing at the head of this organization is George C. Hale, who has practically given to the department its prestige - a scholarly, genial, courteous gentleman, who places duty above every other consideration and who takes just pride in the efficiency of his men and their faithful performance of the tasks allotted to them. There is in Kansas City few men who are more widely known and none who is held in higher regard by his friends than George C. Hale.
This gentleman was born in Colton, St. Lawrence county, New York, October 28, 1849, and when a youth of 14 came to the city which has since been his home. This was in 1863, and he at once obtained a situation with the firm of Lloyd & Leland. His close application, his thoroughness and his earnest endeavor to perform to the best of his ability every task intrusted to his care soon attracted the attention of his employers and he was raised from the position of shop boy and put in charge of a large engine that ran the machinery of the shops. He held that position for some time and during that period lost no opportunity to master every detail connected with the business. He undoubtedly possesses natural talent as a machinist and was very quick to learn; and it was often remarked that if he saw a piece of work done he could at once duplicate it. His ability in the line of mechanics has been constantly demonstrated. In 1866 he took charge of the machinery of the great bridge that spans the Missouri river at this city, under the direction of O. H. Chanute, the engineer for the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad Company, and remained in that service until the completion of the bridge and the ceremonials attending its dedication July 4, 1869.
Soon afterward Mr. Hale became connected with the Great Western Manufacturing Company of Leavenworth, Kansas, where he remained until the fall of 1871, and then returned to Kansas City. His connection with the fire department covers a period of a quarter of a century. In that year he was appointed engineer of John Campbell Engine, No. 1, the first engine ever owned by Kansas City. Subsequently he was transferred to engine No. 2, where he served until 1877, whenthe introduction of the water works system into the city caused the steamers to be thrown out of commission for a number of years and Mr. Hale was appointed foreman of one of the hose companies. In 1881 he was promoted to the position of assistant chief under Colonel Frank Foster, and upon the retirmement of the latter in 1882 he was selected as the best man to place in charge of this responsible office; and his 13 years' administration has shown the wisdom of the choice made. Colonel Foster said of him: “I have known Mr. Hale for 12 years and know him to be a fine mechanic and most practical fireman, a thorough gentleman, and one whom I can, in my judgment, recommend as the most competent in our whole city to control and manage our fire department. I assure you if Mr. Hale is appointed you will never have cause to regret it.”
Our subject has put forth every effort to make the Kansas City fire department equal to any in this country and has succeeded in accomplishing this result, bending every energy to that end. He possesses all the necessary qualifications for an able fire department chief, and, though realizing to the fullest extent the responsibilities resting on him, in times of fire he is perfectly cool and collected, and therefore able to capably direct his men and make their service the most effective. His judgment is sound - an essential quality, for in case of fire the chief is autocratic and his word is a law from which there is no appeal. Mr. Hale is perfectly fearless in the discharge of his duties, and not only commands his men but leads them where the danger is greatest. His method of fighting fire is at once systematic and scientific, and consequently no time is wasted in false moves, which is sometimes the case where there exists a lack of system. His discipline, while firm, is not severe or arbitrary, and his kindness and solicitude for the welfare of his subordinates has won him the esteem of the entire force of the department.
Mr. Hale has closely studied the whole field of Kansas City and laid his plans so as to make the service most beneficial. The various departments are equipped in a most complete manner with all modern machinery and accessories, including several of Mr. Hale's inventions. Among the chiefs of other fire departments he has the reputation of being the mechanical genius of the order. His inventive mind has been steadily engaged upon new and important devices whereby a fire can be most scientifically and successfully fought. Most of his inventions have been in connection with fire apparatus and department supplies. One of his earliest inventions, however, was the Hale rotary steam engine, which is highly recommended by the United States navy. His device for hitching horses used in fire departments, whereby at the sounding of the alarm the halter becomes detached, allowing the animal to spring to position, was also among his earlier inventions. Believing that one moment at a fire in its incipiency is worth an hour after it is fairly underway, Mr. Hale's inventions have been perfected with this aim in view. One of the most important of these is the Hale swinging harness. It embraces the most complete, the quickest and least complicated method of hitching in use, and is employed in fire departments throughout the United States. The time required for hitching by this method is from one and three-quarters to three seconds. In February, 1888, he completed his automatic horse cover. He also invested the Hale cellar pipe with improved spray nozzle. This is designed for fires in cellars and basements. The Hale tin-roof cutter and the Hale electric wire-cutter were two very important additions to fire appliances; the Hale improved telephone fire-alarm system, which was the production of his mind, has proved of the greatest importance to the fire department of Kansas City; also the Hale water tower, which is perhaps one of the most important additions to fire apparatus of the 19th century.
Mr. Hale had the honor of representing his nation in the International Fire Congress held at Agricultural Hall, London, June 12 to 17, 1893. With a picked crew of 8 members of the Kansas City fire department and a team of trained horses, together with all the necessary equipments found in a model engine-house, he left Kansas City, and after being handsomely entertained by the Chief Engineers' Club of Massachusetts, in Boston, and by the New York Press Club and others in New York, he and his men took passage on the City of Rom on the 27th of May, and on the 4th of June, as the steamer neared Moville, Ireland, they were met by a small boat having on board a committee of reception to escort them to London. On the evening of the same day they landed at Greenock, Scotland, and visited in Glasgow for 2 days, where they were royally entertained. They received like treatment in Edinburg, and floating over many of the large buildings in the different cities could be seen the American flag in honor of their visit. On the morning of the 8th of June they arrived in London and were escorted with ceremony to the Royal Agricultural Hall. After the opening ceremonies the various fire companies representing the different nations passed in parade around the extensive arena, and America was given the post of honor, leading all other nations with the stars and stripes floating above. The little band of picked men from the Kansas City fire department gave several creditable exhibitions, which won the heartiest applause from the multitude assembled, and demonstrated the superiority of the methods of protection against fire in the country. On the evening of June 17, immediately after completing their last exhibition, they were marched up before the royal box, and after a very complimentary speech delivered by Lieutenant Colonel Seabrook upon the American methods of drills and displays of apparatus each one was presented with an elegant gold medal, the presentation being made by Miss Shaw, daughter of Sir Eyre M. Shaw, ex-chief of the London fire brigade. They were also presented with 2 handsomely engraved diplomas for best drills and apparatus. In Glasgow, where they were again entertained most royally and where they gave exhibitions, they were presented with a handsome silver water set.
The honors which Mr. Hale received were certainly well merited, and he is indeed a worthy representative of that line of service on whose faithful performance so often depends not only extensive property interests, but the safety of many lives. The deeds of the firemen today rival in bravery those of the chivalrous knights of olden times. Personally, Mr. Hale is a broad-minded man, a student, analytical, carrying his researches and investigations far beyond the required limits of his duty. In manner he is pleasant, courteous and genial, and to his hosts of warm friends at home he added many during his stay abroad.
This page was last updated August 2, 2006.