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Since ancient times, the salamander has been associated with the ability to survive in fire.
Famed traveler Marco Polo discovered during his encounter with the Tartars an asbestos cloth cleansed with fire – and was from Salamanders’ Wool. Somewhere along the line, some people even began believing 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 ancient lore, the salamander was known to have the ability to withstand the ravages of fire. With its nearly magical ability to stay cold under any circumstance, it was able to extinguish fire with ease. Other legends, hold that the salamander was able to withstand fire by secreting a milky substance from its pores.
In the winter salamanders hibernate, often hiding in hollow trees or wood piles. When this wood is added to a fire, the salamander battles the fire with its milky secretion – giving it just enough time to escape.
Whatever the reason for the salamander’s fire resistant “powers,” the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators & Allied Workers adopted the salamander as a symbol of what the Insulators do on a daily basis: regulate temperature and contain fire.
When the emergence of steam power in the late 1800s created a need for skilled 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.