Independence Fire 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 pressed felt fire hat was used in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the first half of the 19th century. The hat is painted brown overall, with the text “INDEPENDENCE / FIRE / COMPANY” painted in gold on the front of the hat. The back of the hat has the date “1847” painted in gold between two styled lines. The initials “W.B.” are painted in gold between two styled lines on the crown of the hat. The Independence Fire Engine Company No. 39 was founded in 1847 as a hand engine company. It acquired a steam fire engine in 1863 and operated as a steam fire engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Date Made: 1810-1860

Associated: Independence Fire CompanyMaker: 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: 2005.0233.0102Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0102Accession 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 in x 12 1/2 in; 15.24 cm x 27.94 cm x 31.75 cm


Record Id: nmah_1318728

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