Shiffler Company Cape

Shiffler Company Cape

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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.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
ca 1846-1870
place made
United States
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 28 in x 43 in; 71.12 cm x 109.22 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
Firefighting Capes
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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