"Portrait of a Fireman" 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 painting belonged to the Eagle Fire Engine Company No. 13 of New York, New York that was active from 1783 to 1865. The oil painting was created by an unknown artist around 1863. The painting is a full-length portrait of Chief Engineer Harry Howard. Howard is holding a speaking trumpet and resting his hand on a table that bears his work helmet. Upon his death in 1896, Howard was the last surviving Chief Engineer of the Volunteer Fire Department of New York City. A great supporter for the paid Metropolitan Fire Department established in 1865, Howard advocated for pay raises for firemen, the establishment of a firefighter’s retirement home, and gave $1,000 to the exempt firemen’s burial fund. This painting and its companion (2005.0233.0310) would have adorned either side of the company’s engine.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
ca 1863
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
overall: 27 in x 29 in; 68.58 cm x 73.66 cm
Associated Place
United States: New York, New York
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

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