Union Fire Company Fire Hat

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 fire hat was used in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the first half of the 19th century. The hat is painted red overall, with a black underbrim. There is a circular frame painted in gold at the center of the hat with an image of a sailor (sometimes called a “Jack Tar”) waving his cap next to an American flag, and a sailing vessel in water in the background. The portrait is flanked by a blue banner with gold trim that reads “UNION FIRE Co.” in gold paint. The hat has the date “1819” painted in gold on the back, and the owner’s initials “G.W.” painted on the crown in white. The Union Fire Company was established on March 10, 1819 in the Rising Sun area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1820s
associated
Union Fire Company
maker
unknown
place made
United States
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
paint (overall material)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
red (overall color)
black (underbrim color)
red; white; blue (depicted scene color)
Measurements
overall: 6 1/2 in x 13 3/4 in x 12 1/8 in; 16.51 cm x 34.925 cm x 30.7975 cm
ID Number
2005.0233.0087
catalog number
2005.0233.0087
accession number
2005.0233
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
subject
Flags
Sailors
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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