Thanking our legacy donors

Recently, Director Brent Glass hosted a “thank you” luncheon for a small group of the museum’s planned giving donors. The highlight was a presentation by Associate Curator Tim Winkle and Senior Objects Conservator Beth Richwine, who treated us to a look at early 19th century fire hats.

Fire hat with yellow text and large eye

In early America, firefighters were strictly volunteers, and fire companies took great pride in their role as protectors of their communities. Their fire engines, uniforms, and hats were elaborately decorated to reflect this pride. In 1788, a convention of firemen in Philadelphia urged its members to add their personal and company names to hats to help identify themselves at the scene of a fire, and this added personalization led to even more elaborately designed hats. Volunteers wore these hats to fight fires but also in parades, which is why they are sometimes known as “parade hats.”


In addition to seeing the hats, we also learned about the behind-the-scenes work that went into conserving and preserving one of them. The hat pictured here, from the Rapid Company No. 2 of Salem, took 100 hours of work to remove the black coating (still shown on half), revealing the intricate designs hidden underneath. The process included a variety of tests, from X-Ray fluorescence and infrared examination to ultraviolet light and paint sample analysis.

At this time of Thanksgiving, all of us at the museum are grateful for the generous donors whose gifts help make our work possible. At the luncheon last week, we had an opportunity to share our thanks with a special group of these donors—those who have made planned gifts that will benefit the museum. A planned gift can be as simple as including the museum in a will, trust, retirement plan, or life insurance policy, or establishing a charitable gift annuity. These gifts provide the museum with critical funding while helping donors leave their mark at the nation’s history museum.

As Director of Individual Giving, it is always a treat to be part of special donor events like these. Not only do I get to see amazing artifacts and learn more about the museum’s collections, but I also get to meet the generous individuals who are leaving their legacy at the museum for the benefit of future generations of visitors.

If you are interested in learning more about a gift, please contact us. To learn more about fire hats, check out our online collections, or see some in person in the artifact walls on the museum’s first floor.

Amy Karazsia is the Director of Individual Giving at the National Museum of American History.