William Penn Hose Company Fire Hat


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 dates to the first half of the 19th century. The hat is painted red overall, with a portrait of William Penn in a wooded setting, a body of water behind him, set inside a golden oval. The portrait is flanked by blue banners with gold text that reads “WILm PENN / HOSE COMP.” The back of the hat has an image of a wooden fire hydrant with protruding hose painted in gold, flanked by the letters “FA.” This was the logo of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, an insurance company founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies in 1817. The William Penn Hose Company No. 18 was founded on February 3rd, 1830 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, adopting the name of the state’s proprietor. It operated as a hose company until 1864, when it acquired a steam fire engine. William Penn served as a hose and steam fire engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Date Made: 1830s

Associated: William Penn Hose CompanyDepicted: Penn, WilliamMaker: unknown

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States

Subject: Fire FightingFraternal Associations


See more items in: Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement, Cultures & Communities, Clothing & Accessories, Fire Hats, Work, Firefighting Collection, Art


Exhibition Location:

Related Publication: McCosker, M.J.. The Historical Collection of the Insurance Company of North America

Credit Line: Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2005.0233.0098Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0098Accession Number: 2005.0233

Object Name: hat, fire

Physical Description: fabric, pressed felt (overall material)paint (overall material)painted (overall production method/technique)Measurements: overall: 6 in x 11 3/4 in x 13 3/4 in; 15.24 cm x 29.845 cm x 34.925 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746ab-feb5-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1318724

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.