America Hose Company Cape

Some early American firefighters wore capes for protection, ornamentation, and identification. The stiff oil cloth protected their shoulders and upper body against fiery embers and water, and the decorative painting served to identify company members at chaotic fire scenes or on parade. The capes were often painted by local sign painters, some skilled artists like John A. Woodside, who also painted the company’s hats and banners and decorated their fire engines. Many of the capes in the firefighting collection display patriotic names and symbolism, reflecting themes important to 19th century volunteers, as well as the pride they felt in the early founding date of their fire company.
This oil cloth cape is painted maroon with gold trim. The center of the cape has gold letters that read “America Hose” with a golden “A” (for America) on each shoulder. America was a common name among fire companies, making it difficult to determine which company this cape, painted burgundy with yellow lettering, belonged. Companies often chose monikers such as America, Eagle, Columbia, Washington, and United States to link their company with patriotic values of a still young republic. Hose companies began to form the first decades of the 19th century, with the creation of municipal water systems and developments in hose design that made the equipment more functional and essential in fighting fires in larger cities. Hose companies were responsible for maintaining the leather hoses, transporting and working them at fires. The hose allowed firemen to quickly bring water to a blaze from a distance, as well as the ability to put more water directly on the conflagration.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
ca 1840-1850
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 25 in x 43 1/2 in; 63.5 cm x 110.49 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Fire Fighting
Clothing & Accessories
Fraternal Associations
Cultures & Communities
Firefighting Collection
Firefighting Capes
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Firefighting Capes
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
McCosker, M.J.. The Historical Collection of Insurance Company of North America

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