Shiffler 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 dark red overall, with a blue scroll in the center of the cape bearing the text “SHIFFLER” in gold. Above this, the initials “J.C.D.” are painted in gold, likely belonging to the owner of the cape. The shoulders of the cape have painted images of the American flag furled around a pole. The cape is likely from the Shiffler Hose Company of Philadelphia. The company was named for George Shiffler, an 18 year old who was killed during religious riots in Philadelphia in 1844. These riots occurred during a time of growing tension between largely Protestant Nativists and immigrant Irish Catholics. Shiffler, killed outside an Irish Catholic firehouse, became a celebrated martyr for the Nativist cause. These political and religious differences could divide fire companies, as volunteer fireman aligned with those who shared similar backgrounds. The Shiffler Hose Company would often brawl with the Irish Catholic members of the Moyamensing Hose Company when they crossed paths on the way to fires.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
ca 1846-1870
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 28 in x 43 in; 71.12 cm x 109.22 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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