Willis Lamm's Hydrant Collection

Part 5

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

  The Frenchman and the Shipwreck
Click pictures for closeups

In early 1850 a young Frenchman named Morris Greenberg and his family set sail for California to make their fortune in the gold rush. Suffering a shipwreck in the Straits of Magellan, he didn't arrive in San Francisco until late 1851. By that time the gold rush was pretty much played out but San Francisco was becoming established as a major port city.

There wasn't any fortune in gold waiting for young Greenberg, but the new city had a need for brass ship fittings for its burgeoning maritime industry. Having been a foundry apprentice in France, Greenberg founded the Eagle Brass Works and started a bustling enterprise serving the shipping industry.

After San Francisco's 6th great fire in 1851 the city set about creating a reliable municipal water system. Greenberg was contracted to provide cast materials for the water works. By the 1860s Greenberg was the major provider of cast iron and brass water system components. Greenberg now operated a major foundry which incorporated and was named M. Greenberg's Sons, Inc. in honor of his sons who were now helping run the family's business.

San Francisco's original fire hydrants were based on an eastern dry barrel design and cast by the Hinckley Iron Works in San Francisco. While the Hinckley design was traditional, it was not very efficient. The flood valve was slow to open and the hydrants had somewhat limited flows. Greenberg, his imagination not being polluted by traditional convention, reasoned that a 6" pipe with one or more valves above the surface would be much more efficient for locations where freezing was not an issue. He built the first wet barrel hydrant which drew wide acceptance and was dubbed the "California hydrant." When San Francisco rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire, every hydrant on the municipal water system was a Greenberg "California hydrant" with double 3" outlets.

Greenberg went on to produce more types of fire hydrants than any other manufacturer, producing over a dozen distinctive models with as many as 4 variations within each model. One of the goals of this collection is to collect and restore a representative example of each of Greenberg's designs in tribute to the young shipwrecked Frenchman that forever changed the Pacific coast fire service.

Model 71

Model EBMUD 71

Model 73
Around 1910

Early Model 74
Around 1915

1938 SF 74
1947 EBMUD 74
Early Model 75
Around 1907

1910 LA 75
1930s Model 75
1949 EBMUD 75
1950's Model 75
1940's Model 76
54GR "LA Sleeve"
1953 Model 25 "Cascade"
Bonnet View
More hydrants will be presented when restored.


0649- EBMUD hydrants are typically painted white. This one was originally in service at the Orinda Filter Plant "Glory Hole." It was later placed on a private storage system in the EBMUD watershed which protected the Berkeley Shakespearian Festival. Hydrants not on the public water main systems have yellow bodies to indicate that they are not on public mains so this one was repainted.

0588- SF hydrants are painted white. This one was installed on Treasure Island for the World's Fair. The island was taken over by the Navy during WW-II and they painted the hydrants yellow. This hydrant also differs from conventional SFFD hydrants as its caps are brass rather than cast iron in order to resist corrosion from the salt air.

0587- The "LA Sleeve" was originally designed when stem guides and nozzles were seated in lead. With conventional hydrants the valves had to be serviced and seals replaced by removing the flanged bonnet and reaching down into the hydrant. Southern California preferred a design where the entire valve assembly could be removed out the back of the hydrant. Later with improved casting and machining techniques, hydrant nozzles could be threaded on, therefore they could be removed in the field and the valve passed out the opening for service and seal replacement.

0587- The vertical bulge on the back of the hydrant contained a rod which held open a clapper valve called a "breakaway valve." If the hydrant was knocked off, the rod went with it and the valve slammed shut preventing a large geyser and resulting water damage.

Other "Willis" Collection Pages

"California" Hydrants

More "California" Hydrants

Dry Barrels

"Mushroom Heads"

Major Wet Barrel Makers

Smaller Wet Barrel Makers

Modern Wet Barrels


M. Greenberg's Sons

East Bay MUD Hydrants

A House Founded Upon its Brass

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