Union 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 white, with the text “UNION/1747” in red with brown shading in the center of the cape. The cape’s shoulders have the number “1” painted in red with brown shading. This cape likely belonged to a member of the Union Fire Company of Trenton, New Jersey, which was founded February 8th, 1747.
Currently not on view
date made
18th or 19th century
place made
United States
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 25 in x 43 in; 63.5 cm x 109.22 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession 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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