212 S. 4th St., 215/627-1752
HOURS: Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
In 1736, Ben Franklin founded Philadelphia’s first fire brigade, the Union Fire Company, and in 1752, he helped establish the first property insurance company in the country. The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire laid the groundwork for modern insurance companies.
Fire and fireproofing buildings were longtime interests of Ben Franklin, who once told a friend that in case of fire: “You may be forced to leap out of windows and hazard your neck to avoid being overroasted.”
John Stow, who recast the Liberty Bell after it cracked, was responsible for casting the Contributionship’s official symbol, the hand-in-hand fire mark, which can be seen on buildings around town.
Constructed in 1836, the building remains the headquarters of the Contributionship and contains a small ground-floor museum that is open to the public. Among the memorabilia are fire marks, firemen’s hats, miniature engines, lanterns, and a silver “speaking trumpet” used to convey orders at fire sites.
You’ll learn interesting tidbits about the history of firefighting—like how rival fire companies fought one another at the scenes of fires because whoever put out the fire received payment. Some members formed the city’s most violent gangs.
The museum maintains home surveys for many old Philadelphia residences, including those of Ben Franklin and John Penn (William Penn’s son). These insurance surveys and records have been useful to present-day Society Hill residents in re-creating the original features of their homes.
The elegant 2nd-floor rooms are open by appointment only.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition