"Rescue" 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 engine panel painting likely belonged to the Globe Engine Company of Kensington, Philadelphia, which was founded in 1820. The painting is attributed to John S. Brewer and dated to around 1834.The painting depicts two firemen rescuing a distressed woman from a conflagration. The firemen are wearing their fire hats and capes, and one is carrying a speaking trumpet used to amplify his instructions to the company. The painting was meant to emphasize the firemen’s masculinity and heroism by saving the woman from the danger of the fire. This painting and its companion piece (object 2005.0233.0313) would have adorned either side of the company’s engine.
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
ca 1840
artist attribution
Brewer, John S.
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
with frame: 29 1/4 in x 21 1/4 in; 74.295 cm x 53.975 cm
without frame: 20 1/2 in x 14 in; 52.07 cm x 35.56 cm
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
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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