Susan M. Sterett traces the legal and constitutional structures underlying early social welfare programmes in the United States. Sterett explains the status of state and local government payments for public servants and the poor from the mid-19th century until the Great Depression. The most visible public payments for service in the United States were directed to soldiers, who risked death for the nation. However, firemen, not soldiers, first captured local governments' attention; social welfare programmes for soldiers were modelled on firemen's pensions. The dangerous work of firefighting and of combat provided the fundamental legal analogy for courts as governments expanded pensions in the late 19th and early 20th century.