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Chief Engineers - Chiefs of Department:

Frederick D. Kohler Chief Engineer
1849 - 1851

Frederick D. Kohler
  • Born 1810
  • Fire Department of New York
    • Member, Protection Engine Company No. 5, ”Honey Bee 5”
    • Assistant Foreman 1837 – Foreman, “Honey Bee 5”
    • Appointed District Engineer, FDNY, 1838-1841
  • San Francisco
  • Elected to the Town Council, August 1,1849
  • San Francisco Fire Department
    • Appointed Chief Engineer, December 26, 1849
    • Salary per month: $250.00
    • Resigned August 25, 1851
  • State of California
    • Adjutant General of the State, August 26,1851
  • Died December 7, 1864

Frederick D, Kohler, a former Alderman of New York, was the first Chief Engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department.

Kohler, born in New York in 1810, was for a long time a resident of that city. He was an early day fireman in the big city, becoming Assistant Engineer of New York's department. He came to San Francisco with the gold rush of 1849, and went into partnership with the famous David Broderick in the business of assaying and stamping gold bars in an office on Clay Street opposite Portsmouth Square.

On December 26, 1849, just two days after the first great fire, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Volunteer Department, pending its formation. At a meeting of the Town Council January 28, 1850, he was duly elected. He organized several companies and served as Chief until September 20 of the same year, when he resigned.

Under an ordinance of July, 1850, it had been determined to elect Chiefs by popular vote of the firemen themselves, and, using this method, Andrew J. McCarty was placed in the position on September 23, 1850.

Previous to the election the Association of Delegates from the department had adopted resolutions claiming the fire election ordinance was incomplete. A few days before the election of McCarty, it had been determined by some of the Aldermen that Mayor John W. Geary had no authority to call the election, and it should be put over until September 27.

But on the forenoon of September 23 it was discovered the election was going on and that several of the fire companies were ignorant of the fact. Several companies were accused of irregularities in voting and it was asserted that Protection Engine Company, with only 50 members of its lists, had polled 104 votes. The upshot was that Chief McCarty resigned on September 30, expressing regrets about the whole affair.   A new election being ordered for October 19, 1850, Kohler was voted into office, which he held until August 25, 1851.  His resignation at that time disclosed he had been appointed Adjutant General of the State. He died in 1864, his remains now being in Pioneer Memorial Park here.

By: Frederick J. Bowlen, Battalion Chief, S.F.F.D. (1939)



1850 October 20
The election of a Chief Engineer and two Assistants Engineers of the Fire Department, took place yesterday, in the Empire Engine House. Messers John H. Gibon and Benj. Ray served as inspectors. The following is the result of the balloting:
For Chief Engineer   - F. Kohler 288
Geo. H. Hossefross 286
For Assistant Chief  - F. M. Ebbitts 363
T. K. Battelle 291
F. Whitney 285
F. Kohler was declared elected Chief Engineer, and E. M Ebbitts and T. K. Battelle Assistant Engineers.
On the question of salary, 238 votes were cast in favor of the Chief Engineer receiving a salary, and 5 votes in opposition.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 1, Number 262, 20 October 1850


1850 October 22
A message was received from the Mayor, communicating the result of the election on Saturday last of F. Kohler, Chief Engineer, and R. M Ebbitts and T. K. Battelle, Assistant Engineers of the Fire Department
The Chief Engineer was instructed to occupy a lot in rear of City Hall for the repair of fire apparatus.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 1, Number 264, 22 October 1850 — in Council. [ARTICLE]


1850 December 16, Monday morning
Once more we urge upon authorities the absolute necessity of immediately going to work to ensure a thorough organization of the Fire Department. This is imperatively their first duty. There is not the greatest wisdom in legislating merely to enhance the value of property and the extension of the city's limits, while the preservation of our houses and homes and places of business, seems scarcely to command a moment's attention after the smoke has floated away and the engines have ceased playing. A Chief and assistants engineers have been chosen, and the former has made many good and necessary suggestions to the Council, most of which have been allowed to die.

He suggested the erection of two or three towers for fire-bells; one has been built, but no bell has been put in it. A lantern without a candle would be just as useful. He suggested a workshop for the repair of engines and fire apparatus generally. One of the Boards acted upon the matter, but the other did not pay it even that compliment. Last Saturday night some of the " machines" could not be taken to the scene of conflagration because they had been sent away for repairs and were not completed. The St. Francis Hook and Ladder Co.’s carriage had been in the hands of a workman for such purpose, for some weeks, but not having been mended, they had to carry their ladders to the fire upon their shoulders.

Had Mr. Kohler’s, suggestion been adopted and a shop prepared for the use of the Department, every portion of apparatus would probably have been in order and on the ground ready for action. There never was better material for efficient service than exists in, our Fire Companies, and the manner in which they operated on Saturday night, wherever they had half a chance, proves it. They are composed partly of men who have for years been firemen in large cities, and partly also of our first merchants and business men. The Firemen are our best citizens in every respect. To them, although but half organised, (sic) the city is indebted for probably millions of property saved on Saturday night, for without their exertions it is impossible to say where the conflagration would not have extended. It seems, indeed, almost wonderful how it was checked within such narrow and combustible limits. Another obstacle to their efficiency was met in that empty and reprehensible curiosity fur gazing and rushing into the way of those who desire to work, which thousands exhibited. It was a full half hour before some of the companies could operate, from this cause alone. Authority, too, was exercised by some persons who hail no right to assume any. The house on the corner of Sacramento and Montgomery streets, was torn down by persons unauthorized, to act, and was not done by authority of the Chief, nor Assistant Engineers. These things, show how necessary is a thorough organization. The police should act in entire concert with the Fire Department. This, we believe, is another of Mr. Kohler's suggestions which has as yet had no effect.

The Police are paid, though not well paid, it is true, by our city for their services. And from their character and past conduct we know that rightly organized to act with the firemen,, they would be a most efficient aid in all cases of conflagration. If they are not, it is not their fault, but is in consequence of a proper arrangement and understanding to act with the Department in concert. Will our public guardians at once see to these things? The public expect it, urge it, deserve it. Our cisterns need filling. Had the fire of Saturday occurred in some sections of the city, away from the waters of the harbor, all the engines and fire companies under heaven could not have stopped it, because they would have lacked the one thing


Whatever maybe the future organization of the Fire Department, we would urge upon all the great wisdom of providing, as a private means of safety, a force-pump for each one's premises. They can be obtained for a hundred or one hundred and fifty dollars, and their usefulness in connection with a hundred or two feet of hose is beyond calculation. Messrs. Cook, Baker & Co. saved their back store, and probably Adams & Co. and that entire section from conflagration by the using of one of these pumps. They are ready for use at once, and long before an engine can reach the spot they may extinguish the incipient flames and save the city from desolation. The trilling expense for which they can be obtained is nothing compared with their great value as protection.

One thing more we wish to urge. Let the Police arrest every man who gets in the way of the firemen on such occasions and refused to work. It may be idle curiosity that leads him there. If so, he lacks common sense, and should learn a lesson in the watch-house. If not, he is undoubtedly a thief— perhaps the very author of the conflagration. No man will refuse to work on such occasion. If he is unable or does, not desire to do so, he has no business to approach the scene. Any one who does so and thus contributes to loss of property by being in the way, is in our opinion but little more respectable than the thief who bears off the goods. Our practice must be as prompt and severe us our organization should be perfect. Make all loafers know their place and keep it at respectable distance.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 2, Number 7, 16 December 1850 [ARTICLE]


1851 January 16
— At a meeting of the delegates of the Fire Department on Tuesday evening, F. D. Kohler in the chair, A. C. Wakeman was elected Secretary, and George Melus, Treasurer of the Board.
A committee was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws for the government of the Fire Department.
A resolution was adopted that each engine and hook and ladder company select from its members one delegate for the Firemen's Charitable Association of that department to form themselves into a body for charitable purposes.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 2, Number 37, 16 January 1851 — CITY INTELLIGENCE. [ARTICLE]


1851 June 8, Sunday
— The Chief Engineer, Mr. Kohler presented a report to the Common Council at their meeting on Friday night, from which it appears that the apparatus belonging to the Department is in a worse condition than we had supposed it to be. We do trust that same attention will be paid to the report, and that immediate measures will be taken to fill the reservoirs and place the engines and other fire apparatus in good working order. The Council must also make some provision for the payment of the persons employed to perform the work, or it will not be done. The credit of the city is too low to induce artisans to work for it on " tick," when their services are in such requisition as at the present time. Inattention to this subject by the Council would be really criminal. We earnestly entreat then not to regard it with apathy and indifference, because the ashes of the last fire have at length become cold. We subjoin the report of Mr. Kohler, that all our readers may learn precisely what they may expect of their fellow citizens who to generously labor to save their property from destruction, with the miserable means which they possess.

Gentlemen : I beg leave again respectfully to call your attention to the suggestions heretofore made by the Fire Department in reports to your honorable body, and particular to such of them as refer to the supply of water at the several points therein set forth. I must do this in justice to the department which 1 have the honor to represent, and cannot too earnestly urge your final action in these suggestions, for, without the assistance asked, the usefulness expected from this quarter must fall to the ground in our present disabled and defenceless (sic) condition.
The following is a detailed report of the condition of the Engine and Hook and Ladder companies:
No. 1. Engine is in good order, but wants a house ;
No. 2. Engine wants repairs;
No. 3 Engine Co. wants an engine and a house ;
No. 4. Engine is in good working order;
No. 5. Engine wants general repairs, being at present useless :
The Monumental requires general repairs .
No. 9 is in good order, but wants a house. The foreman of this company has notified me that unless their engine is protected from the dust, (it being impossible otherwise to keep it clean and in good working order,) they will abandon the engine altogether.

The Hook and Ladder Companies generally require repairs, and No. 2 house. This company can be accommodated in the same house with No. 9 Engine, some slight additions only being necessary.

The cistern on the Plaza is at present useless, inasmuch as there is no water in it. The cistern on the corner of California and Montgomery streets wants repairs before it can be titled — in its present condition it is not water tight. The cistern on the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets has been filled by the department since the last fire. The cistern on the corner of Dupont and Pacific streets has been filled by the citizens in the neighborhood.

All the extra hose saved from the fire is more or less burnt, and wants a thorough repair.

All of which is respectfully submitted.
F. D. KOLHER, Chief Engineer.
San Francisco, June 6th, 1851.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 2, Number 180, 8 June 1851 — SUNDAY MORNING, JUNE 8 [ARTICLE]


In Part
1851 August 26
From the other Board.—The acceptance of the resignation of F. D. Kolher, was concurred in, as well as the vote of thanks passed to him.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 2, Number 257, 26 August 1851 — Common Council. [ARTICLE]


1864 December 7
San Francisco – A dispatch to the Bee yesterday has the following:
Fred D. Kohler, first Chief Engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department, died at nine o’clock this morning.
Source: Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 28, Number 4278, 7 December 1864 — NEWS OF THE MORNING. [ARTICLE]


1864 December 7
The City Hall bell tailed at 11 a. m. yesterday, to announce the death of another California pioneer Frederick D. Kohler. who expired at the Russ House, about 10 a. m., after a prolonged and painful illness. The fatal disease being what is known as "Bright’s disease of the kidneys." Mr. Kohler was born on Staten Island. New York, in 1810, and was for a long time a resident of the city of New York, where he held many positions of honor and trust, among them those of First Assistant Engineer of the Fire Department, and Alderman of the Sixth Ward. Coming to California with the first rush in 1849, he entered into partnership with the lamented Broderick, in the business of assaying gold, stamping bars and coining "slugs:" the office occupied by the firm being on Clay street, opposite the Plaza. Some of the ten dollar stamped bars issued by this firm were shown us this morning. In 1850, the first election for Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department was held about three hundred votes being cast, and Mr. Kohler was the successful candidate His certificate of election, signed by Alcalde Geary now hangs in the office of Chief Engineer Scannell in the City Hall. He afterwards held the office of County Recorder under the old county organization. For some years past, he had been proprietor of tie “Blue Wing Saloon," on Montgomery street, near Clay. He was a man of warm heart, and liberal almost to a fault, and few men leave behind a larger circle of real friends to mourn his loss. He leaves three sons, all arrived at man's estate. His wife has been deceased for a number of years The flags of the Fire Department, of which he was an exempt member, and of the California Pioneers, of which he was an active member, are at half-mast to-day in respect to his memory.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 16, Number 5391, 7 December 1864 — SAN FRANCISCO, WEDNESDAY, DEC. 7 CITY ITEMS. [ARTICLE]


1964 December 7
— The Pioneer Association, at meeting held last evening, unanimously adopted the following preamble and resolutions :
Whereas, We are again called upon to pay our tribute of respect to the memory of one of our brother Pioneers. FRED D. KOHLER, who but a short time since walked amongst us the full vigor of manhood, but alas, now lies cold in death in this Hall, built to commemorate the founders of this Territory and State of California: And
Whereas, this sad lessen teaches us all to prepare for the Master’s call, the day or hour we know
Resolved, That in the death of Fred. D. Kohler this Society is called upon to mourn the loss of one of its earliest and most useful members, and the city of San Francisco, one of its pioneers, and most energetic citizens whose name will ever be honorably connected with its history. Whether as private citizen or municipal officer, his duties were fully recognized and appreciated to their fullest extent, and in his performance of them he was generous, prompt and efficient. As one of the founders of the Department, and its first Chief Engineer, his claim to our respect and gratitude will last as long as San Francisco endures, he was a man of large and kind heart and generous impulses which were allowed full sway, and influenced his every action. His friendships were warm and enduring. Enemies he had not. As a friend and brother none were more ready and cordial in the performance of those acts of kindred and benevolence which endears men to their fellows and mark the course of the good.
Resolved, that to the affected relatives and family of the deceased, in this their hour of sorrow and bereavement, we tender our most heartfelt sympathy and condolences, and trust that they will be supported and strengthened under the mysterious dispensation, by that kind Providence that overrules, in when we live, and move, and have our being.
Resolved, the Pioneers attend the funeral in a body and that a copy of these resolutions be sent to the deceased.
O. P. Sutton, Chairman pro tem.
R.G. Tiffany
S.R. Harris
L. R. Lull
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 16, Number 5391, 7 December 1864 — The Widening of Kearny Street. [ARTICLE]


From Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies, printed in 1885
The most prominent character who daily frequented " Riley's Pole " to discuss politics and recount the deeds of the members of 5 engine was Fred Kohler, at one time an alderman of the old sixth ward. He was the bosom friend of Dave Broderick, and when the latter went to California, Kohler accompanied him, and the two formed a partnership in the smelting business in San Francisco. In 1865, " Fred." died there, and the " Firemen's Journal" of that city, in speaking of the death at the time, said : " On Wednesday morning, December 7th, Frederick D. Kohler, a pioneer citizen of San Francisco, and first chief engineer of the Fire Department, departed this life after a long and suffering illness. It is true, he was confined to his bed but a few days prior to his death, but for nearly two years he has been a great sufferer, his disease being that of the kidneys. Mr. Kohler was one of the most popular men in the city, of excellent and genial disposition, and of great social qualities, and of a kind and sympathizing nature. In New York and in this city he held various positions of honor, trust, and profit, and in every relation was universally respected. He was atone time an assistant engineer of the New York Fire Department, and was the first chief engineer the San Francisco Fire Department ever had, being first appointed by Alcade J. W. Geary, afterward elected by the firemen, among whom he was always beloved and respected. He was the cherished friend, companion, and partner of Broderick, and that great man always alluded to him in terms of affection and esteem. Upon the announcement of Mr. Kohler's death, Chief Engineer Scannell caused the Hall bell to be tolled in respect to his memory. The flags of the different engine-houses, of the Pioneer Society, and the city flags were placed at half-mast. His funeral took place on Thursday afternoon, from the hall of the Pioneer Society, of which he was a member, and was largely attended by that association, the firemen (active and exempt), and his friends generally — the services being conducted by the Rev. Albert Williams, chaplain of the Pioneers, and the Rev. Jesse T. Peck. During its progress through the streets to the grave, the Hall and other bells were tolled. " Kohler and Hossefross — the two first chiefs of the Fire Department — have both gone to their last home. One by one they pass away, and their foot-prints on the earth are effaced by the hurried tramp of the living. One by one they pass away, and the places which knew them once shall know them no more forever." Mr. Kohler served his time in Engine Co. No. 5, of this city. He was elected assistant foreman under Wilson Small. When Mr. Small was elected an assistant engineer, Mr. Kohler took his position as foreman. He followed Mr. Small also as assistant engineer, He was a genial, kind-hearted gentleman ; as gentle as a woman, yet one whose determination and prowess, when aroused, caused general respect from all evil-doers. Beloved and respected in this city, it is grateful to his old friends to know that those of his later life learned to love him as well. Among the many brave fellows who held a rope.
Source: Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies, 1885


printed 1884 October 19

" Did you ever know Fred Kohler, or hear of him ? He was the first Chief Engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department, and he and David C. Broderick organized, or did more to organize, the Fire Department in this city than any other one man or two men, so far as I know. Kohler was an old New York fireman, and he and Broderick were friends there. When Kohler came to San Francisco he found a friend in Col. Jonathan D. Stevenson, who was at that time a leading personage and rich. Kohler was a jeweler, but he was also an assayer of the precious metals. Gold dust was the currency, so to speak, of the city and of the Territory. There was a great want of coin, or of ingots or bars of gold suitable for payments and transmitting abroad, to Atlantic ports, South America or Europe. 'Some English gentlemen,' with expert and skilled assay era among them, had consulted with Colonel Stevenson and merchants here as to the feasibility of establishing an assaying establishment here, and also of coining gold pieces that should pass in lien of gold dust. Kohler was apprised of the matter by Stevenson, and made some trial assays. They were very satisfactory, and he was chosen for the purpose and backed by ample capital to embark in the enterprise. Broderick was also here, and the friendship between himself and Kohler led the latter to invite him into an association in the business. Broderick had learned the stone-cutting trade, and he knew no more about assaying than he did of the precession of the equinoxes. Still he had many ardent friends, and some of them were ready to assist him with money, and he could be useful in the assaying and coining enterprise. Accordingly the association was agreed upon, and Kohler and Broderick entered into the business as partners. The firm coined five and ten dollar pieces, which passed equally current with United States coinage, and it yielded a handsome profit of about twenty-five per cent, on the value of each dollar coined, reckoning gold dust at $20 per ounce, which was further increased by the purchase of the dust at S16 per ounce. The partnership continued until


to the State Senate in January, 1850, when the firm sold out to Baldwin, who coined the first $20 gold pieces ever seen in California, and I have no doubt that John B. Weller got from Baldwin's coinage the idea of the coinage of the double eagles, when he became United States Senator and obtained the passage of the bill to have them coined. Kohler remained true and devoted to Broderick to the day of his death, and was a delegate to Democratic Conventions always in Broderick's behalf. He was a tall, portly, fine-looking man, fond of running with the boys, and generous in his habits. He was a devotee of the Volunteer system in the Fire Department, and they were men of his mold and that of Broderick's and the present Chief Engineer, Dave Scannell, who in New York had made


What it was after Gulick's chiefship, when Cornelius V. Anderson and Alfred Carson and John Decker succeeded to the position. George Hossefross of the Monumentals, a Baltimore man, who was also Chief here, was of the same stamp, and I cannot help thinking that there never were better firemen in any city in the world than were and are the fire men of San Francisco, under the training and discipline of these able and enthusiastic Chiefs. Poor Fred Kohler, I don't so much mention of his name in the papers of this day and I think he merits some in the Alta. I very distinctly remember how hard he worked to save the old office of the Alta on Washington street, May 4, 1850, when Gilbert, Kemble & Conner owned it, and everything was swept by the flames. I had seen him work at the more perilous and fatal fire in New York that Sunday morning when the old sugar house burned down, and George Kerr and Harry Fargis and another were crushed to death by the falling of the walls, in 1846. It was a day of deep mourning to the New York Fire Department, for George Kerr was assistant engineer, beloved by all, and Henry Fargis was the favorite of his company, Southwark, No. 28,. the crack Philadelphia Agnew engine of the city, a double-decker. The old Exempts, besides many others here in San Francisco, will remember Fred Kohler, for they knew him and liked him in the life. But Lord, how fast we are thinning off and finding eternal rest in the shades of Lone Mountain. Some day, my young friend, maybe some other newspaper man will come to ask me to tell him something about you, years after you shall have gone the way of all flesh. Don't start. I'll give you a good send off, and the Alta shall have the printing of it.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 37, Number 12607, 19 October 1884 — IN THE FIFTIES. [ARTICLE]

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