Washington Fire Company Parade Hat

Washington Fire Company Parade 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.
Fire companies could not choose a better figure to represent their patriotism and self-sacrifice than George Washington. He was the most well-known figure of the Early Republic and was associated with all the positive qualities of the young country. Since so many companies chose to honor Washington in their imagery, it is difficult to know which company produced this fire hat. It is a particularly elaborate hat with Washington's image, with flags and banners flanking the portrait, and a drum and cannon included at the base. The back of the hat features a painted image of wooden fire hydrant in gold flanked by the initials “FA". This was the logo of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies in 1817. Washington Fire Company No. 1 of the Frankford section of Philadelphia was a member of the Fire Association, so it is possible the hat belonged to one of the members of that company.
Object Name
hat, fire
Date made
Washington Fire Company
Washington, George
Place Made
United States
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Physical Description
painted (overall production method/technique)
paint (overall material)
pressed felt (overall material)
overall: 13 1/8 in x 11 3/4 in x 6 1/2 in; 33.3375 cm x 29.845 cm x 16.51 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
Artifact Walls exhibit
Clothing & Accessories
Family & Social Life
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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