Fire Hat, "Eagle Hose Company"

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Description
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 black, with a painted image on the front of the hat depicting a spread-winged eagle in front of a sunburst gripping a red banner in its talon that reads “EAGLE HOSE COMPANY” painted in gold. The company’s initials “EHC” (Eagle Hose Company) are painted in gold calligraphic script on the back of the hat. The owner’s initials “JW” are encircled by a golden wreath on the crown of the hat. The Eagle Hose Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded in 1851. The imagery on this hat is very similar to other fire hats in the collection—2005.0233.0029 and 2005.0233.0030—pointing to a common artist or local artistic style. The bald eagle was adopted by the Continental Congress as the national symbol of the United States in 1782. As a patriotic symbol of liberty and freedom, the eagle was a frequently used icon among early American volunteer fire departments.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1850-1860
associated
Eagle Hose Company
maker
unknown
place made
United States
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
black (overall color)
multicolor (decorative eagle color)
red (decorative banner color)
gold (decoration; inscriptions color)
paint (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 6 in x 12 1/2 in x 14 in; 15.24 cm x 31.75 cm x 35.56 cm
ID Number
2005.0233.0034
catalog number
2005.0233.0034
accession number
2005.0233
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
subject
Eagles
Fire Fighting
Fraternal Associations
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Work
Clothing & Accessories
Art
Fire Hats
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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