Union Fire Company Fire Hat

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Beginning in the late 18th century, some volunteer fire fighters began to wear hats painted with their company’s name to identify themselves at chaotic fire scenes. During the 19th century, these fire hats became more ornate, as portraits of historical figures, patriotic scenes, allegorical images, or company icons were painted alongside the company’s name, motto, or founding date. Made of pressed felt, these “stove-pipe” hats were primarily used in Philadelphia, but other nearby cities such as Baltimore and Washington adopted them as well. Fire hats were personal items with the owner’s initials often painted on the top of the hat. While these hats were worn at fires, they are more colloquially known as “parade hats.” Fire companies commonly marched in the many parades of the period and these ornate hats contributed to the visual culture of their day. These distinguishing features in a company’s regalia often proclaimed the members’ cultural and political identity as well as their position on contested topics such as work, religion and immigration.
This fire hat dates to the first half of the 19th century. The front of the hat has the text “Union Fire Co.” in gold on an arching banner over a painted gold shield with the painted number “1” at the center. The back of the hat has the date “1747” flanking fasces, though lacking the fasces’ commonly depicted axe. The fasces, a bundle of wooden sticks, were a classical Roman symbol for the power of the state, as well as denoting strength through unity. This symbol would have been used by early American volunteer firefighters to link the young country to the republican ideals of the past, as well as a symbol of their unity.
Currently not on view
date made
Union Fire Company
place made
United States
Physical Description
black (overall color)
red (underbrim color)
yellow (lettering; decoration color)
paint (overall material)
painted (overall production method/technique)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
overall: 6 1/4 in x 14 in x 12 1/2 in; 15.875 cm x 35.56 cm x 31.75 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
Fraternal Associations
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Hats
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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