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Hand-in Hand Fire Company Fire Hat

Hand-in Hand Fire Company 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 was used in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the first half of the 19th century. The hat is painted red overall with the text “HAND IN HAND” painted in gold, arching over an image of two hands clasped with a golden sunburst in the background. The back of the hat has the date “1741” painted in gold with a gold line on top and bottom. The crown of the hat has the text “Instituted / March 1st 1741” in gold arching above and below the owner’s initials “J.H.L” in the center. The “hand in hand” name and clasped hand symbol were popular among volunteer fire fighting companies and fire insurance companies during this period. It symbolized the mutual assistance needed to combat fires and the fraternal ties of fire companies prevalent in early American communities. This Hand in Hand Fire Company was founded March 1, 1741 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and located in the Dockward at the Fish Market and Drawbridge. Due to lack of interest the company was no longer in service by about 1816. The company 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
painted (overall production method/technique)
fabric, pressed felt (overall material)
red (overall color)
gold (decoration; trim color)
paint (overall material)
overall: 5 1/8 in x 12 in x 13 3/4 in; 13.0175 cm x 30.48 cm x 34.925 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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