Hand-in-Hand Fire Hat

Hand-in-Hand Fire Hat

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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 painted image of two clasped hands with a sunburst in the background. The text “HAND IN HAND” is painted in gold above. The date “1741” is painted in gold on the back of the hat in between two golden lines. The owner’s initials “A.B.” are painted in gold on the crown of the hat. The Hand-in-Hand Fire Company was founded on March 1, 1741 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and adopted the clasped hand symbol as a representation of the mutual nature of volunteer firefighting in early America. Due to lack of interest the company was no longer in service by about 1816. It was reformed in 1823 and operated as a hand engine company until 1863, when it acquired a steam fire engine. The Hand In Hand operated as a steam fire engine until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.
Currently not on view
Object Name
hat, fire
date made
place made
United States
Physical Description
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
paint (overall material)
painted (overall production method/technique)
overall: 5 1/2 in x 12 1/2 in x 13 1/2 in; 13.97 cm x 31.75 cm x 34.29 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
Fraternal Associations
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Hats
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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