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United Firemen's Insurance Co. Fire Mark

ca.1860-1870
Origin: America, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Overall: 9 1/2 x 11 3/8 x 1in (24.1 x 28.9 x 2.5cm) Weight: 7 lb (3.2 kg)
Cast iron
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1932.807.2
Oval cast iron fire mark depicting a steam-powered fire engine, in high relief and facing to the right, with the legend UNITED FIREMEN'S INS CO around. Two mounting holes, one in the field above the fire engine, and one below.
Label:Most folks take it for granted the local fire department will quickly respond to a call for help in case of a fire. Until the establishment of government-run firefighting companies during the last half of the nineteenth century, this wasn't the case. If a property owner wasn't a member in good standing a fire fighting company, they were simply out of luck. Those who desired fire protection and could afford to pay for it joined one of these privately run brigades, like the United Firemen's Insurance Company, chartered in 1860. Those structures covered by subscription had one of these cast iron "fire marks" attached to the front of the building in a conspicuous manner. This mark, now stripped to the bare iron, would have been painted black with gold letters originally.

With the establishment of Philadelphia's first paid professional Fire Department in 1871, the practice of marking covered structures became obsolete, as all building were then covered. Today, many old buildings in that city still display their old fire marks. These remain popular with collectors and decorators, and have been reproduced in large numbers, well after they fell out of use.