"Franklin & Kite" Engine Panel Painting

Description
In the nineteenth century, volunteer fire companies often commissioned paintings to decorate their hand-pumped fire engines for parades, competitions, and community events. Sometimes framed with elaborate carvings, they adorned the tall air chamber located at the middle or rear of a pumper. The paintings would often feature patriotic, heroic, or allegorical images to associate the volunteer companies with these lofty ideals.
This fire engine panel painting of Benjamin Franklin is attributed to the Franklin Engine Company from Philadelphia that was active from 1792 until 1871. The painting was completed around 1830 by an unknown artist. The painting depicts the popular story of Franklin’s kite experiment where he attempted to prove that lightning was an electrical force. Benjamin Franklin was well known for organizing the first volunteer fire company in Philadelphia, and his image and his name were popular among the city’s fire companies. By invoking Franklin, volunteer firemen linked themselves to the progenitor of their trade, as well as someone who played a key role in the American Revolution. This painting and its companion (2005.0233.0305) would have adorned either side of the company’s engine.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
ca 1835
referenced
Franklin, Benjamin
West, Benjamin
maker
unknown
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
Measurements
overall: 15 1/2 in x 24 1/2 in; 39.37 cm x 62.23 cm
ID Number
2005.0233.0306
accession number
2005.0233
catalog number
2005.0233.0306
subject
Fire Fighting
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Work
Cultures & Communities
Art
Engine Panel Paintings
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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