The Salamander Story
Seemingly since the beginning of recorded history, the salamander has been associated throughout the world with an alleged ability to live in fire. The salamander’s unique “gift” is even referenced in the Bible.
Famed traveler Marco Polo discovered during his encounter with the Tartars an asbestos cloth that was cleansed with fire – and was from Salamanders’ Wool. Somewhere along the line, some people even began believing that the salamander was a “symbol of enduring faith, or courage, that cannot be destroyed,” all derived from its mystic ability to live in or put out fire.
According to some, the salamander is able to withstand and extinguish fire because it is incredibly cold, and therefore it can put out fire on contact. Another theory is that the salamander secretes a milky juice from the pores of its body when it is irritated, which could possibly briefly defend it from fire.
Adding to the legend is the fact that salamanders hibernate and often hide in hollow trees or wood piles in the winter, so they are often found within firewood. When the wood is added to a fire, the salamander awakens and possibly battles the fire briefly with its secretion – giving it enough time to escape.
Whatever the reason for the salamander’s fire resistant “powers,” the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators & Asbestos Workers adopted the salamander from the beginning as part of its logo because of that fire-resistant element.
When the emergence of steam power in the late 1800s created a need for skilled insulation mechanics to insulate steam boilers and piping, the insulation industry was born. In 1900, the first attempt to form a national union between insulator associations came with the Salamander Association of New York – which took its name from the reptile that, according to legend, had skin that was impervious to fire.
By 1902, a group of pipe-coverer unions had affiliated with the National Building Trades Council of America and laid the foundation for an international union. During their first convention on July 7, 1903, in St. Louis, a constitution was drafted and approved and a formal name was adopted: the National Association of Heat, Frost and General Insulators and Asbestos Workers of America.
The new international soon adopted its logo, which included – as it does today – a salamander wrapped around a pipe over an open flame.