Columbia Company Cape


Some early American firefighters wore capes for protection, ornamentation, and identification. The stiff oil cloth protected their shoulders and upper body against fiery embers and water, and the decorative painting served to identify company members at chaotic fire scenes or on parade. The capes were often painted by local sign painters, some skilled artists like John A. Woodside, who also painted the company’s hats and banners and decorated their fire engines. Many of the capes in the firefighting collection display patriotic names and symbolism, reflecting themes important to 19th century volunteers, as well as the pride they felt in the early founding date of their fire company.

This oil cloth cape is painted blue with gold trim and lettering that reads “COLUMBIA / 1763.” Early American fire companies often linked themselves with patriotic names or symbols. Linked to the goddess of Liberty, Columbia was popularized as the female personification of the United States in the late 18th century, as the country began to agitate for its independence. Actually founded in 1765, Columbia Fire Engine Company began as the Fellowship Engine Company (Lower Ward) in the Germantown area of Philadelphia. The company took the name Columbia around 1809. Incorporated in 1833 as the Columbia Fire Engine and Hose Company of Germantown, it operated as a hand engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Date Made: 1820-1840

Maker: 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, Work, Firefighting Collection, Firefighting Capes, Art


Exhibition Location:

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

Credit Line: Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2005.0233.0121Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0121Accession Number: 2005.0233

Object Name: cape, fire uniform

Physical Description: oil cloth (overall material)paint (overall material)Measurements: overall: 25 1/2 in x 41 1/2 in; 64.77 cm x 105.41 cm


Record Id: nmah_1326317

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