Lafayette 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 with equal sections of red, white and blue. The cape has the name “LAFAYETTE” painted in gold in the center of the cape, with the letters “L” on one end and “H” on the other. These initials likely stand for Lafayette Hose Company, founded in Philadelphia in 1833. The red, white, and blue coloring on the cape displayed the company’s patriotism, as did its name, which celebrated the Major General Gilbert du Motier, the marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Lafayette returned in 1824 on a celebrated tour, and was feted in Philadelphia and other American cities. Attesting to his continuing popularity among Americans, the hose company took his name nearly a decade later.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
mid 19th century
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 32 in x 49 in; 81.28 cm x 124.46 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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