"Franklin at Desk" Engine Panel Painting

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 came from the Franklin Engine Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that was active from 1792 until 1871. The painting “Franklin at Desk” is attributed to David Rent Etter and dates to around 1830. The painting depicts Benjamin Franklin’s dictating his memoirs to his grandson. 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 piece (object 2005.0233.0018) would have adorned either side of the company’s engine.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
ca 1830
Franklin, Benjamin
Etter, David Rent
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
overall: 21 1/2 in x 15 in; 54.61 cm x 38.1 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Fire Fighting
Cultures & Communities
Firefighting Collection
Engine Panel Paintings
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Engine Panel Paintings
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

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