Columbia 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 blue with gold trim and lettering that reads “COLUMBIA/1763.” Early American fire companies often linked themselves with patriotic names or symbols. Linked to the goddess of Liberty, Columbia was popularized as the female personification of the United States in the late 18th century, as the country began to agitate for its independence. Actually founded in 1765, Columbia Fire Company began as the Fellowship Engine Company (Lower Ward) in the Germantown area of Philadelphia. The company took the name Columbia around 1809.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 25 1/2 in x 41 1/2 in; 64.77 cm x 105.41 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Fire Fighting
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Fraternal Associations
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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