"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 No. 12 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that was active as a hand engine company from 1792 until 1863 when it acquired a steam fire engine. It operated as a steam fire engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. 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.

Date Made: ca 1830

Referenced: Franklin, BenjaminMaker: Etter, David Rent

Location: Currently not on view

Classified: Fire Fighting


See more items in: Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement, Engine Panel Paintings, Cultures & Communities, Work, Firefighting Collection, Art


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2005.0233.0307Accession Number: 2005.0233Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0307

Object Name: painting, engine panel

Physical Description: wood (overall material)oil paint (image material)Measurements: overall: 21 1/2 in x 15 in; 54.61 cm x 38.1 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746ac-6a7b-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1341021

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