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"Franklin & Kite" Engine Panel Painting

"Franklin & Kite" Engine Panel Painting

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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 painting of Benjamin Franklin is attributed to the Franklin Engine Company No.12 from Philadelphia that was active 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 was completed around 1830 by an unknown artist. The painting depicts the popular story of Franklin’s kite experiment where he attempted to prove that lightning was an electrical force. 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 (2005.0233.0305) would have adorned either side of the company’s engine.
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
ca 1835
Franklin, Benjamin
West, Benjamin
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
overall: 15 1/2 in x 24 1/2 in; 39.37 cm x 62.23 cm
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
Cultures & Communities
Engine Panel Paintings
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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