Fire Bucket, "American 1810"

Fire Bucket, "American 1810"

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This bucket from 1810 is painted with an allegorical figure of Mercury, the Roman messenger god. This is a typical portrayal of Mercury, dressed in a wide cloak and wearing a winged cap. Early Americans were fascinated by the ancient classical world. Beginning in the 1770s, neoclassical themes appeared everywhere, such as in paintings and newspapers, and on currency, seals, ceramics, wallpaper, and furniture. Reading classical literature, originally the province of the educated elite, spread to the middle class in the first four decades of the nineteenth century, as literacy rates rose and books became more affordable. Early Americans were in the process of developing a culture distinctly their own, and classical taste and imagery implicitly tied the young government to the great ancient republics and helped to unite the disparate parts of the new country. The god Mercury was most likely depicted on this fire bucket because he was known for his swift flights from place to place: his golden sandals were described as carrying him over earth and sea “like the blasts of the wind.” In the early nineteenth century, citizen-firefighters would have needed to respond to a blaze as quickly as Mercury. The sooner volunteers arrived with buckets, the sooner the work of extinguishing a fire and salvaging property could begin.
Currently not on view
Object Name
bucket, fire
date made
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 19 in x 9 in x 9 cm; 48.26 cm x 22.86 cm x 3 9/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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