Was born in Clermont County, Ohio, June
11, 1821, and came with his parents to Cincinnati in 1827. He was
married, October 21, 1847, to Elizabeth A. Pawson, of Cincinnati ; died
in Ludlow, Ky:, April 28, 1865, leaving two children, G. Taylor and
Luella M. Latta. He attended the public schools until thirteen years of
age, when he engaged with David Bradford for seventy-five cents per
week, in his woolen mills on Congress Street. After about three years'
service he was employed by Mr. William Bylaw; a ship joiner, for three
dollars per week. He remained with him about three years, his wages
being increased to nine dollars per week the last year. Mr. Latta then
went to Samuel Cummings, a brass-founder, whose shop is still on Front
Street, between Pike and Butler. He remained there till 1841, when he
visited Washington, going by stage over the mountains. While there he.
met Mr. Anthony Harkness, owner of an extensive machine-works in
Cincinnati, who was so much pleased with Mr. Latta's mechanical ability
that he offered him the superintendency of his works, which he accepted.
While there Mr. Latta superintended the building of the first locomotive
built west of the Alleghany Mountains. He remained with Mr. Harkness
until 1846, when he again visited Washington, and was there engaged in
the Navy-yard for a short time. After his return to Cincinnati he was
variously employed, always trying to invent something new or improve on
the old. He was successful in many .of his inventions, especially in
The great invention of his life was the
steam fire-engine. In 1843 a gentleman from Indiana employed Mr. Latta
to make a small coiled boiler after his plan, in order that he might
exhibit it. He conceived the idea of applying a similar one in the
construction of a steam fire-engine; but in operating it he found the
friction and resistance of the steam was very great, and in a boiler of
any magnitude would be an insuperable objection. To obviate this
difficulty the idea suggested itself of gradually increasing the size of
the tubes, thereby allowing room for the expansion of the steam. Mr. R.
G. Bray, then chief of the Fire Department, hearing of his plan, called
upon Mr. Latta, and, after getting a full explanation, was anxious to
have the experiment tried, and induced the City Council to appropriate a
sufficient sum to make a cheap and temporary apparatus to demonstrate
the rapidity of raising steam in the boiler, which was the most
important point to be ascertained. Upon trial the apparatus proved a
success, and Mr. Latta, together with his brother Edmiston, then leased
some property on Race Street, and began building the first steam
fire-engine. It was completed in due time, and publicly tested.
As is often the. case with' inventors, Mr. Latta
was not blessed with wealth, but had many kind and influential friends.
Among the number Were Mr. Griffin Taylor, who assisted him with his
means, and Messrs. George Graham and Joseph Ross, through whose
influence the City Council contracted with Mr. Latta for the first steam
fire-engine, which was named the Uncle Joe Ross.
On the 1st of January, 1853, this machine was
publicly tried on the corner of Second and Broadway. Four horses
were hitched to the engine (not because they were required, but to keep
from frightening other horses; it was, of course, large and unwieldy,
but was furnished with motive power sufficient to move it either uphill.
or down), and as they started, the fire in the furnace was lighted. In
ten minutes, lacking four seconds, sufficient steam was raised to
operate the engine. It was taken down Race Street to Fourth, and
along Fourth to. Broadway. Here another important point was to be
tested. It was thought that, owing to its immense Weight (twelve
tons) it could not be safely taken downhill. As the machine- commenced descending, the excitement was
intense nine-tenths of those present expecting to see it become
unmanageable and rush down the hill ; but it did not. The force of the
engine was thrown on and off the hind-wheels, now checking, now letting
free, and at a moderate speed it descended to Second and Broadway. The
horses were detached and the engine put in motion. In nineteen minutes
it had been hauled eight and one-half squares, and was throwing water
from the cistern. Mr. Latta managed the engine, and Mr. Bray, the city
fire-engineer, superintended the hose and pipe arrangements.
Union Fire Company No: 9 came, by
invitation, with its superior hand-engine, the Ocean, to compete with
the steamer. Nine hundred feet of hose was laid uphill to the Nine's
engine, and the steamer supplied the Ocean with water and threw three
streams through inch nozzles one hundred and twenty-five feet. The whole
power of the steamer was then put into one stream and an
inch-and-three-eighths nozzle attached to the hose. The most experienced
firemen were put upon the brakes of the hand-engine. They were confident
they could beat the intruder. The signal was given, and the steam
fire-engine started promptly. The firemen on the Ocean bore down and up
in quick succession, and strained every nerve as they saw their stream
shooting far ahead of the steamer's. A little more steam was put on, and
farther and higher the steamer's stream cast the solid volume of water.
The Ocean used every exertion to catch up, but the steamer never tired;
the stream went higher and higher. The hand-engine put up her brakes and
hauled off, acknowledging defeat. The distance from the end of the
nozzle to where the solid body of water fell was two hundred and
twenty-four feet. It took two stout men to steady and direct the pipe.
The capacity of the machine to keep .up steam was then satisfactorily
tested for over half an hour. There was now only one thing more to be
demonstrated. It raised steam quickly, ran well, threw water promptly,
and descended a hill nicely; but could it be taken up a steep grade?
the predictions that it would stall. The horses were hitched, and it was
surprising to see with what ease they turned the machine around. Steam
came to their aid, and the engine sped up Broadway at a rapid rate, and
reached its station in double-quick time. As it went up the hill, cheer
after cheer arose. It was a grand success, and. Mr. Latta felt well
repaid for all his thought and labor. Soon after this, he, assisted by
his brother, Edmiston, began building the Citizens' Gift, which for
many years was the most renowned and powerful steam fire-engine in the
Miles Greenwood came to the front, and
for two years devoted his entire time and energies to the organization
of the paid fire department of Cincinnati—the first of the. kind in
the United States. Mr. Latta subsequently built many lighter and more
improved engines, introducing them in various other cities. He finally
retired from the fire-engine business, and removed, with. his family, to
his country residence in. Ludlow, Ky. He there invented several
improvements in oil-well machinery, and also introduced the manufacture
of aerated bread into Cincinnati.
Mr. Latta was an earnest member of the
Central Presbyterian Church of this city from its first organization, in
1844, till the time of his death, in 1865. He was a devoted husband and
loving father, and at his death left his family in comfortable
Source: In Memoriam
Cincinnati 1881, Cincinnati, A. E. Jones, Publisher, 1881.