"Benjamin Franklin with a Loaf of Bread" Engine Panel Painting

"Benjamin Franklin with a Loaf of Bread" Engine Panel Painting

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Description (Brief)
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 with Loaf of Bread” is attributed to David Rent Etter and dates to around 1830. The painting depicts the young Benjamin Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia in 1723. As recounted in his autobiography, he mistakenly bought more bread than he could eat and gave the extra loaves to a poor woman and child. 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 Revolution and securing America’s freedom. This painting and its companion piece (object 2005.0233.0307) would have adorned either side of the company’s engine.
Currently not on view (screws)
Object Name
painting, engine panel
Date made
ca 1830
Franklin, Benjamin
artist attribution
Etter, David Rent
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
overall: 25 in x 13 3/4 in; 63.5 cm x 34.925 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Engine Panel Paintings
Firefighting Collection
Giving in America
Giving in America
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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