Pennsylvania Engine Co. No. 12 Fire Hat

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 second half of the 19th century. The hat is painted black overall, with a central painting of Pennsylvania’s coat of arms. Within the central shield are images of a ship, a plow, and three sheaves of wheat, representing commerce, labor and the importance of agriculture respectively. The shield is flanked by two horses, with a red banner outlined in gold with the text "Virtue, Liberty & Independence" written in gold. The back of the hat has the number “12” painted in gold, with a gold outline of a keystone. Something has been peeled off of the crown of the hat, leaving a distressed mark. The hat is similar in style to object number 2005.0233.0077, but it belonged to a member of the Pennsylvania Engine Company No. 12 of San Francisco, California. The company was founded in the burgeoning Western city in 1852 by veteran firefighters from Philadelphia who chose to wear the traditional uniforms of their home city.
Currently not on view
Object Name
hat, fire
date made
ca 1852
Physical Description
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
paint (overall material)
painted (overall production method/technique)
overall: 6 in x 13 1/4 in x 15 in; 15.24 cm x 33.655 cm x 38.1 cm
place made
United States
United States: Pennsylvania
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Fire Fighting
Cultures & Communities
Fraternal Associations
Clothing & Accessories
Firefighting Collection
Fire Hats
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Fire Hats
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
McCosker, M.J.. The Historical Collection of the Insurance Company of North America
Additional Media

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