Fire Badge "L.J. Rathman Reading, PA"

This elaborate metal fire badge belonged to L.J. Rathman of the Liberty Fire Company No. 5 in Reading, Pennsylvania. A shield hangs from two chains from a small nameplate that reads “L.J. RATHMAN.” The number “5” is attached to a nameplate from a ring. The shield has a circular monogram containing the overlapping letters “LFCo.” An upper banner on the shield reads “ORGANIZED 1854” and a lower banner reads “READING, PA.” The Liberty Fire Company No. 5 was established in 1854 in a fire house located on the corner of South Fifth and Laurel Street in Reading. Reading resident L.J. Rathman was the chairman of the Reading branch of the American Electro platers’ Society in 1920, dating the badge to that era.
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
date made
late 19th century
place made
United States
associated place
United States: Pennsylvania, Reading
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
overall: 2 1/2 in x 1 3/8 in; 6.35 cm x 3.4925 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Fire Badges
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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