Willis Lamm's Hydrant Collection

Part 1

All hydrants restored by and pictures Copyright © 2000, Willis Lamm.

  "California" Hydrants
Click pictures for closeups
The "California" (wet barrel) hydrant was invented by Morris Greenberg, a young French immigrant who arrived late for the California gold rush when he and his family suffered a shipwreck in the Strait of Magellan. They arrived in the rapidly growing city of San Francisco, a burgeoning seaport that was in need of repair parts for the maritime industry so Greenberg, who was a foundry apprentice, formed the Eagle Brass Works.

When San Francisco installed its first water mains, Greenberg was called upon to supply castings and fittings. Becoming more interested in water works, the young man reasoned that a fire hydrant could be designed with its operating valves placed above ground to provide faster opening, improved flows and in the case of multiple outlet hydrants, independent control of each valve. Dubbed the "California" hydrant, Greenberg set a new standard for fire hydrants for communities where freezing was not an issue.

M. Greenberg's Sons Model 71 "California Hydrant" from the Contra Costa Water Company.

(Oakland was called Contra Costa Village before it incorporated in 1861.)

These hydrants were often installed before houses had plumbing so many had "street washers" attached so that people could fill buckets for home and stock use. The plug is where the street washer attached.

This hydrant, made by Builders Iron Works in Oakland, CA, was in service in Alameda, CA from 1880 until 1996 when it was removed for street widening.

The knob on top was for tying fire horses. The steamer would hook up to a hydrant near the fire and the driver would take the horses to a hydrant in a safe location down the street.

At the turn of the century, the hydrants became a bit taller to make it easier to turn valve spanners. (The minimum distance from valve stem to base flange was increased to 15".)

This M. Greenberg's Sons Model 73 hydrant was in service in Concord, CA from the early 1920s until 1999.


"Steamer hydrants" with large diameter pumper connections were also produced for mercantile and industrial areas. Crews would attach a 4" x 2" reducer to the steamer outlet to lay double lines from hydrant to fire, or they could attach large diameter suction when pumping at the hydrant. This hydrant was cast by United Iron Works in Oakland, CA around 1910.

Since the valve stem guides and nozzles were seated in lead, the tops of these hydrants could be unbolted in order to service valves and replace seals.

In the mid 1930s, a concept was developed where the stem guides and nozzles were threaded onto the hydrant body. By unscrewing the nozzle, the valve stem operating nut could be turned clockwise until the valve passed through the nozzle opening for servicing. "Slug wrenches" were needed to unscrew the nozzles, but there was the advantage that tools and parts wouldn't be accidentally dropped down the barrel as would occasionally happen with the earlier "flange tops."

This Model 102 "mushroom head" was made by Shand & Jurs of Berkeley, CA, and saw service in Berkeley from 1937 until 2000.


Greenberg also started producing hydrants with threaded on stem guides and nozzles. Their version was designed with the classic Greenberg "frisbee top."

This Model 74 hydrant was installed in Albany, CA around 1937 and remained in service until 2000.

Southern California used a different approach to access valves for servicing. In Los Angeles, the "LA Sleeve" was designed where the valve and stem guide could be removed using standard socket wrenches.

This Greenberg Model 54GR placed in service in Pleasant Hill, CA, is a more modern example of this concept. This hydrant was removed in 1999.

(Click here for another view.)


Some departments wanted a 3-outlet design were they could lay double lines without having to attach an adapter to the pumper outlet. Shand and Jurs designed the Model 112. The hydrant was tall in order to allow spanners to make full turns between the hose outlet and steamer outlet.

We're not sure where this hydrant originated but it is a late 1930's vintage which was later military surplussed.

Greenberg came up with the idea of offsetting the hose outlets at 45 degree angles to the pumper outlet which allowed free movement of spanners and provided a more pleasing profile. This is the classic post WW-II Model 76 with the frisbee top and "Greenberg bulge."

This hydrant was installed in 1949 at Dow Chemical in Pittsburg, CA and was retired in 1976. (The "dalmatian" horse that can be viewed in the closeup picture is "Prints.")


While Greenberg produced many different models, their most popular by far was their Model 75 which was still being produced until Greenberg was bought by Rich Valve in the late 1980s.

This 1963 hydrant typified a later Model 75, with the name Greenberg cast on the bonnet. The hydrant could be ordered with a knockoff valve. A rod attached inside the bulge shown on the back view of this hydrant, which in turn kept the knockoff valve from closing.

Click here For a back view
In 1945 the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) produced their own design based on Greenberg's model 71, 74 and 75 hydrants. The EBMUD stem guides fit more closely against the body providing less obstruction on sidewalks.

This hydrant was in service in Orinda, CA from 1945 until 1997.

(Click here for another view.)


Other "Willis" Collection Pages

More "California" Hydrants

Dry Barrel Hydrants

"Mushroom Heads"

Major Wet Barrel Makers

Smaller Wet Barrel Makers

Modern Wet Barrels

The Frenchman & the Shipwreck

Back to Hydrant Collectors Page

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