The Maltese Cross was a brand of fire hose, as the 1890 citation below indicates.
History and Heritage / Origin of the Maltese Cross
When a courageous band of crusaders known as the Knights of St. John, fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but a horrible device of war, it wrought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for the cross. The Saracen's weapon was, fire.
As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens hurled a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive; others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful, fiery deaths.
Thus, these men became our first firemen and the first of a long list of courageous firefighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each here a badge of honor - a cross similar to the one firemen wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.
The Maltese Cross is your symbol of protection. It means that the fireman who wears this cross is willing to lay down his life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow man so many years ago. The Maltese Cross is a fireman's badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage - a ladder rung away from death.
19 December 1890, New York Times, "FIRE DEPARTMENT HOSE," pg. 3:
His company, he said, could furnish rubber hose fully as good as that now used by the Fire Department 15 cents per foot cheaper than is now paid for the Maltese Cross brand, which costs $1 per foot and is used almost exclusively by the department.
27 February 1895, Fort Wayne (IND) Evening Sentinel, pg. 4, col. 3:
Yesterday afternoon the board fo safety distributed the new badges to all the members of the fire department. The new badge is in the shape of a Maltese cross and is about one and one-half inch in diameter.
20 June 1908, New York Times, pg. 9:
INSIGNIA FOR FIRE HEROES.
Men Honored for Rescues Must Wear
Decorations on Sleeves.
By an order just issued by Commissioner Hayes of the Fire Department, firemen who have won degrees of merit for rescues at fires beginning July 1, 1908, will have to wear on both sleeves the following insignia:
Class A - A Maltese cross, gold plaited.
Class B - A Maltese cross, silver plaited.
Classes C and D - Maltese cross of bronze.
The decorations are to be worn just above the cuff, and when more than one decoration is worn the class A badger will be placed in the centre, with the next highest to the right, and the lower grade decoration to the left.
23 November 1910, New York Times, pg. 7:
For the first time in the history of the Fire Department a woman was honored for long and faithful service when members of Engine Company 21 to-day presented to Mrs. Sarah Pope the department's gold Maltese cross.
Mrs. Pope, who lives at 242 East Thirty-ninth Street, is the widow of John Pope, a fireman who died in the line of duty. Twenty years ago the widow was appointed a matron, which position she has held ever since.
31 January 1951, New York Times, pg. 19:
Eighty-four of the 110 special Fire Department automobile shields, popularly known as "Fire Department Maltese Cross Plates" and held mostly by civilians, have been recalled, a spokesman for Commissioner George P. Monaghan announced yesterday.
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