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Evidence of Ben Franklin's Slightly Shady Fire Fighting Empire

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Ever seen a placard on the front of a house in Society Hill and wondered what it was? In most cases, it's a fire mark, an olden-time proof of insurance. Though all fire companies were volunteer outfits and would work to save any house, they were also usually tied to a particular insurance company: they were ever so slightly biased toward saving houses that had policies with their companies. In order to identify their house to their fire company, homeowners would affix a fire mark to the front of their home.

The first fire company was founded by Ben Franklin, who manufactured public demand for a fire company by writing pseudonymous letters to the editor about fire prevention and the need for better fire safety in Philadelphia. He created his volunteer fire fighting company in 1736, and the Philadelphia Contributionship, (which is still insuring homes today,) in 1752.

The fire mark which depicts four hands holding each other at the wrists is the mark of the Philadelphia Contributionship. The other two marks come from competing companies: the Mutual Assurance Company's mark depicts a tree, and the Fire Association's mark shows a fire hose and a rope. The Mutual Assurance Company was also known as the Green Tree company, because they formed in reaction to a policy of the Philadelphia Contributionship that prohibited trees on or near the property of policyholders. The Green Tree company's biggest selling point was that they would accept properties with trees.

The fire marks are now collectibles, and rarer marks can retail for up to $1000.
· Benjamin Franklin, founding father of firefighting [The History Blog]
· Fire Marks from the Days of Yesteryear [Old and Sold]
· Fire Marks [The Philadelphia Contributionship]
· Mutual Assurance- Its Beginning in America [Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia]