Mechanic Engine Company Fire Hat

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 hat is painted light purple overall, with a central painting of a blacksmith at a forge with the text ‘MECHANIC/ENGINE Co.” in gold in arching banners above. The image is inspired by John Neagle’s painting “Pat Lyon at the Forge.” Lyon was a successful blacksmith who manufactured early fire engines for volunteer companies in Philadelphia. The back of the hat has a five-pointed golden star with the number “26” in the center. The owner’s initials “G.W.F.” are painted in gold on the crown of the hat. The Mechanic Engine Company was founded on August 4, 1839 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Currently not on view
Object Name
hat, fire
date made
Mechanic Engine Company
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 6 3/4 in x 12 1/2 in x 11 3/4 in; 17.145 cm x 31.75 cm x 29.845 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Fire Fighting
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Fraternal Associations
Firefighting Collection
Fire Hats
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Fire Hats
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
McCosker, M.J.. The Historical Collection of the Insurance Company of North America
Additional Media

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