Delaware 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 the company name “Delaware” in gold with black shading and the date "1821" in gold with red shading. The company number "4" is at each end of the cape in gold with black shading. The cape was most likely from the Delaware Fire Company based in Trenton, New Jersey, founded in 1821. The cords on this cape are still intact and show how these rather heavy capes would be tied around the fireman’s neck.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 20 in x 44 1/4 in; 50.8 cm x 112.395 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Cultures & Communities
Fire Fighting
Clothing & Accessories
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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