Decatur Fire 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 hat was used in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the first half of the 19th century. The hat has been painted red with a portrait of Commodore Stephen Decatur framed in gold. American flags and black banners with gold trim surround the portrait. The banners bear the gold text “DECATUR/F.E. CO.” The back of the hat features a gold painted image of an early fire hydrant with gushing hose attached, flanked by the letters “FA”. This was the logo of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, an insurance company founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies in 1817. The top of the hat bears the owner’s initials “N.C.” painted in gold. The engine company was founded in 1803 in the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia. Originally known as Good Will, the company soon renamed itself after Stephen Decatur, the famous naval officer and hero of the War of 1812, whose father had resided in Frankford.
Currently not on view
Object Name
hat, fire
date made
Decatur, Stephen
Physical Description
green (underbrim color)
gold (decoration; trim color)
painted (overall production method/technique)
red (overall color)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
paint (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
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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

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