Washington 1796 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 brown overall with the text “WASHINGTON/1796” painted in gold on the front of the hat. The back of the hat has the number “14” painted in gold with stylized lines above and below the number. The owner’s initials “S.J.” are painted on the crown of the hat in gold. A note inside the hat indicates these initials may stand for a volunteer named S.C. Johnson. The Washington Fire Company that was founded on January 3rd 1796, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania located on the west side of Eleventh Street.
Currently not on view
date made
associated date
place made
United States
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
paint (overall material)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
overall: 6 in x 14 in x 12 in; 15.24 cm x 35.56 cm x 30.48 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