The first ambulance hits the streets of Manhattan

Can you imagine being in pain and riding to the hospital in this?

It’s the first ambulance in the city (and reportedly the nation), launched in 1869 to ferry the sick and injured to Bellevue Hospital.


The idea for an ambulance service came from a Civil War surgeon, who realized that hurt soldiers would be brought to medical tents via flimsy stretchers and carts, which often resulted in further injuries.

EdwarddaltonSo army doctor Edward B. Dalton (right) developed a vehicle with a roof and shock absorbers that could transport casualties quickly and safely.

After the war, Dalton was hired by the Department of Charities and Corrections to start a civilian ambulance corp.

In June 1869, two lightweight, 800-pound vehicles hit the (often unpaved and muddy) streets.

“Ambulances were staffed by a driver and an ‘ambulance surgeon,’ in fact, an intern fresh out of two years of medical school,” states

What was inside? A rolling bed, surgical lamp, pillows, and blankets. Medical supplies included bandages, tourniquets, a stomach pump—plus a straitjacket, handcuffs, a flask of brandy, and drugs like amyl nitrate and morphine!


“In addition, the ambulance surgeon carried a black leather satchel containing hypodermic syringes, tracheotomy tubes, a Nealaton’s probe, catheters and dressings for minor wounds,” writes


Instead of a siren on top, a bell operated by a foot pedal alerted pedestrians that the ambulance needed to get through. Telegraph communications let drivers know where to pick someone up.

NY3dBookIntCover-1In a rapidly growing city, the service was a big success. Five more ambulances were added in 1870, and by 1891, Bellevue had more than 3,000 ambulance calls.

As time went on, ambulances changed. The second photo is from 1895; the third, 1910.

The ambulance corp is another advancement from post-Civil War New York, a time of incredible modernization in the city. Read more about it New York City in the Gilded Age. [Photos: Museum of the City of New York;]

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7 Responses to “The first ambulance hits the streets of Manhattan”

  1. ninagrandiose Says:

    One of Bellevue’s old horse drawn ambulances is, I believe, on display on the ground floor of the hospital. It was there last year.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, thanks, forgot to mention that…it was there last time I visited six months ago.

  3. penelopebianchi Says:

    What a lovely history!!! Wonderful!!!

  4. chas Says:

    Congrats on the book..I will definitely be getting a copy…

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:


  6. Tips For Exercising While Sick or Injured » Jari Love Says:

    […] The first ambulance hits the streets of Manhattan […]

  7. A 19th century New Yorker invents toilet paper | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Many things owe their existence to the inventors and developers of New York City, like Christmas tree lights, Oreos, chop suey, and ambulances. […]

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