Rainbow 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 hat is painted red overall, and the front of the hat has a black circle with the date “1773” painted in gold in a black cartouche on a golden cloud, framed by a scrolling banner that reads “RAINBOW FIRE COMPANY”. The back of the hat has a golden number “1” framed in a gold octagon with black shadowing. The Rainbow Fire Company was founded March 17, 1773 in Reading, Pennsylvania and is one of the oldest volunteer companies still in existence.
Currently not on view
date made
Rainbow Fire Company
place made
United States
Physical Description
paint (overall material)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
painted (overall production method/technique)
overall: 5 1/2 in x 12 1/4 in x 13 5/16 in; 13.97 cm x 31.115 cm x 33.782 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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