Beginning in the late 18th century, some volunteer fire fighters began to wear hats painted with their company’s name to identify themselves at chaotic fire scenes. During the 19th century, these fire hats became more ornate, as portraits of historical figures, patriotic scenes, allegorical images, or company icons were painted alongside the company’s name, motto, or founding date. Made of pressed felt, these “stove-pipe” hats were primarily used in Philadelphia, but other nearby cities such as Baltimore and Washington adopted them as well. Fire hats were personal items with the owner’s initials often painted on the top of the hat. While these hats were worn at fires, they are more colloquially known as “parade hats.” Fire companies commonly marched in the many parades of the period and these ornate hats contributed to the visual culture of their day. These distinguishing features in a company’s regalia often proclaimed the members’ cultural and political identity as well as their position on contested topics such as work, religion and immigration.
This fire hat was used by a member of the Germantown Hose Company No. 37 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, organized in 1848 and operated until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. The fire hat has been painted red overall, and the front of the hat has the text “GERMANTOWN/HOSE” painted in gold around a golden number “1” on a black background surrounded by a golden sunburst. This represents the fact that it was the first hose company organized in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, a separate municipality before it was consolidated into the city in 1955. The date “1848” is painted in gold with black shadowing on the back of the hat.
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