Columbia Hose 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 hat was used in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the first half of the 19th century. The hat is painted light blue, with an image of a spread-winged eagle in front of a sunburst gripping a red banner in its talons that reads “COLUMBIA HOSE COMPANY” in gold. The company’s initials “CHC” (Columbia Hose Company) are painted in gold calligraphic script on the back of the hat. The owner’s initials “J.M.I.” are painted in gold on the crown of the hat. The Columbia Hose Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded in 1806, on the block of 7th and Cherry Streets. The bald eagle was adopted by the Continental Congress as the national symbol of the United States in 1782 and was a frequently used icon among early American volunteer fire departments.
Currently not on view
Object Name
hat, fire
date made
Columbia Hose Company
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
red (underbrim; edge; trim color)
gold (decoration color)
paint (overall material)
blue (overall color)
overall: 6 1/2 in x 13 1/8 in x 14 5/8 in; 16.51 cm x 33.3375 cm x 37.1475 cm
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Patriotism and Patriotic Symbols
Fire Fighting
Cultures & Communities
Fraternal Associations
Clothing & Accessories
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

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.