Shiffler 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 dark red overall, with a blue scroll in the center of the cape bearing the text “SHIFFLER” in gold. Above this, the initials “J.C.D.” are painted in gold, likely belonging to the owner of the cape. The shoulders of the cape have painted images of the American flag furled around a pole. The cape is likely from the Shiffler Fire Hose Company No. 32 of Philadelphia founded in 1846. It acquired a steam fire engine in 1865 and changed its name to Shiffler Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company operating as a steam fire engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. The company was named for George Shiffler, an 18-year-old who was killed during anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844. These riots occurred during a time of growing tension between largely Protestant Nativists and immigrant Irish Catholics. Shiffler was killed outside an Irish Catholic firehouse, and became a celebrated martyr for the Nativist cause. These political and religious differences could divide fire companies, as volunteer fireman aligned with those who shared similar backgrounds. The Shiffler Hose Company would often brawl with the Irish Catholic members of the Moyamensing Hose Company when they crossed paths on the way to fires.

Date Made: ca 1846-1870

Maker: unknown

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States

Used: Fire FightingFraternal AssociationsDepicted: Flags


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


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: 2005.0233.0129Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0129Accession Number: 2005.0233

Object Name: cape, fire uniform

Physical Description: oil cloth (overall material)paint (overall material)Measurements: overall: 28 in x 43 in; 71.12 cm x 109.22 cm


Record Id: nmah_1326339

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