Harmony Fire Company Fire Hat

Harmony 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 the eastern United States during the first half of the 19th century. The hat is painted black overall, with the text “HARMONY” arching over the image of a speaking trumpet, all painted in gold on the hat’s front. The painting on the back of the hat has deteriorated, but there are traces of a fire hydrant painted in gold with the text “WE [illegible] TO SERVE” arching above. The owner’s initials “C.P.S.” are painted in gold on the crown of the hat. A speaking trumpet, as seen on this hat, was a necessary tool to shout commands over the noise and disorder of a fire scene. The trumpets became well known as a symbol of authority, and continue to serve as rank insignia in fire departments. The fire hydrant, which is the symbol of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, suggests that the hat may have belonged to a member of the Harmony Engine Company No. 6. Founded in 1784, it operated as a hand engine company until 1855, when it refused to join the newly organized Philadelphia Fire Department, which, although volunteer, was under the administrative and financial control of the city. In 1867 the Franklin Hose Company No. 28 purchased its charter and operated as the Harmony Steam Fire Engine Company No. 6 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)
black (overall color)
red (underbrim color)
gold (lettering; trim color)
black (decoration color)
paint (overall material)
overall: 6 in x 12 1/2 in x 13 3/4 in; 15.24 cm x 31.75 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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