Fire Badge "Exempt Elizabeth"

This circular metal fire badge belonged to an exempt member of the Elizabeth, New Jersey fire department. The badge has a beaded edge and decorated with a central image of a fire helmet, with a hook, ladder, lantern, trumpet, and fire hose arrayed behind the helmet, flanked by the letters “F” and “D.” An upper banner reads “EXEMPT” and the lower banner reads “ELIZABETH.” The number “184” is in a circular plaque at the bottom of the badge. After several years of service, volunteer firemen would be exempt from jury duty or militia service. As volunteer firemen were replaced by paid departments, these exempt firemen often founded associations for mutual aid and as social clubs.
Metal firefighter’s badges were a part of the firefighter’s uniform since volunteer companies began to proliferate in the early 19th century. As volunteer companies gave way to municipal fire departments during the mid–19th century, these badges became mandated by uniform codes. Badges served as official identification at fire scenes, as access to derelict buildings by unscrupulous citizens could result in looting. Fire badges came in a variety of shapes, most notably circular, shield–shaped, or the Maltese cross. While shield–shaped badges were often worn on the chest, circular and cross-shaped badges can be seen on jacket lapels or soft caps. Badges usually detailed the company’s name, number and department, and were often decorated with various symbols of the profession such as hose carriages, hand–pumped engines, hoses, trumpets, helmets, hooks, and ladders. For paid municipal companies, many badges also featured the badge number of the wearer.
Currently not on view
Object Name
badge, fireman's
date made
late 19th or early 20th century
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
overall: 1 1/4 in; 3.175 cm
place made
United States
associated place
United States: New Jersey, Elizabeth
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Fire Badges
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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