The Ward LaFrance Truck Company started as a builder of commercial trucks in Elmira Heights, New York. The company was named after its founder, Addison Ward LaFrance. He was the son of Asa LaFrance, who was one of the founders of the LaFrance Fire Engine Company. Addison Ward LaFrance briefly worked for the American-LaFrance Fire Engine Company before becoming an automobile salesman. In 1918 he founded the LaFrance Truck Company. The corporate name later was changed to the Ward LaFrance Truck Company to avoid confusion with American-LaFrance.
Initially, Ward LaFrance built only commercial trucks. Then in 1930 the company began to build fire apparatus. In 1937, Ward LaFrance introduced its distinctive line of custom chassis fire apparatus. During World War Two, Ward LaFrance delivered more than 5000 commercial trucks for the war effort. After the War, Ward LaFrance continued to build commercial trucks and fire apparatus.
In 1955 Ward LaFrance began to use Maxim aerial ladders for a line of ladder trucks. In 1959 Ward LaFrance introduced its first cab-forward design, the Firebrand, of which only about 100 were built. In 1962, the Firebrand was replaced by the “Mark I,” which soon had its name changed to the “Ambassador.” The Ambassador would become the most recognized fire engine in the world when one was used as Engine 51 on the iconic television series Emergency! In 1976, Ward LaFrance was sold to a group of investors who were unable to turn a profit in the brutally competitive fire apparatus business. In 1979, Ward LaFrance went out of business.
The SPAAMFAA Archives has an amazing collection containing tens of thousands of images of fire apparatus. Ultimately we have lofty goals of cataloging, indexing, scanning, and digitizing everything electronically, with copies of most of the illustrative material cross available for personal-use. In the meantime you can view a selection of these images on our SmugMug gallery:
Ward LaFrance Truck Corporation — trucks 1916 – 1979