Torrent 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 was used in the eastern United States during the middle of the 19th century. The hat is painted black overall, with the front displaying an oval-framed portrait of a American Indian woman crossing a raging stream underneath a red banner that reads "TORRENT." The back of the hat has the number “2” in white framed by the outline of a white shield. The name of the company refers to a violent rush of water such as firefighters might direct onto a blaze. The Indian maiden pictured on the rocks may be a patriotic symbol. Feminine figures as symbolic icons were a common European trope, and before Lady Liberty became an American symbol the continent was often portrayed as a native princess. While water-related monikers like Torrent were common among volunteer companies, this hat likely belongs to Torrent No. 2 of Rochester, New York.
Currently not on view
date made
Torrent Hose Company, No. 2
place made
United States
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
paint (overall material)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
black (overall color)
multicolored (depicted scene color)
overall: 6 in x 13 in x 12 in; 15.24 cm x 33.02 cm x 30.48 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
Fraternal Associations
Native Americans
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