Viligant 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 Baltimore, Maryland during the early-to-mid 19th century. The hat is painted green overall, with a single eye inside a golden sunburst painted on the front of the hat. This is the Eye of Providence, or the All-Seeing Eye, which represents an omnipresent gaze, a suitable icon for a company that called itself Vigilant. The other side of the hat has the golden text “VIGILANT” painted on a black background in a golden frame. The crown of the hat has the owner’s initials “J.R.” painted in gold. The Vigilant Fire Company was founded in Baltimore on January 18th, 1804 and operated until the introduction of the paid fire department in 1859.
Currently not on view
date made
place made
United States
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
paint (overall material)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
overall: 6 in x 13 1/4 in x 15 in; 15.24 cm x 33.655 cm x 38.1 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
Eye Image
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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