Friendship 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 red overall with a gold trim. A black banner in the center of the cape reads “FRIENDSHIP” in gold text with the date “1775” in gold below, and the letter “F” in gold on each end. The cape likely belonged to a member of the Friendship Fire Company of Wilmington, Delaware, which was founded in December of 1775. In addition to patriotic ideals, early fire companies also lauded altruistic social values, with names like “Good Will,” “Hope,” and “Harmony.”
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1840
place made
United States
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 27 in x 42 1/2 in; 68.58 cm x 107.95 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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
Firefighting Capes
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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