text: seven walking tours through historic Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Contributionship

Historic District Z005

Across 4th Street is the headquarters of The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire — the oldest fire insurance company in America, founded by Benjamin Franklin and his friends in 1752 and designed by Thomas U. Walter, who designed the Capitol Dome in D.C.

The firm's firemark — four interlocked hands, and known as the hand-in-hand is displayed to this day on many homes and businesses. When volunteer fire companies responded to blazes in the city's early years, a firemark on the burning building meant the structure was insured — and that the insurance company would reimburse the fire company for a job well done. Sometimes rival companies would arrive at a fire simultaneously and fisticuffs would ensue in order to determine who had the honor of putting out the blaze — and who would receive the money from the insurance company.

Independence Hall Area