At first glance, the hats pictured in this post do not conjure up thoughts of firefighting. But sure enough, they represent an important and interesting part of the history of firefighting in our nation and, in particular, our local area.
These are called parade hats, but being worn in a parade was not their original purpose. The start of these hats dates back to 1788, when a fireman’s convention held in Philadelphia recommended that firemen wear a uniform to identify themselves in a crowd. From this decree, different fire companies in the area adopted different distinguishing marks. Some wore company-specific hats, and others tied company badges around their own hats. For many years this was all that was used to identify members of the fire companies, until later in the 19th century when capes and coats became standard.
In the mid-19th century, designs became more decorative, and their purpose shifted. This was a time when fire companies marched in parades celebrating special occasions or dedications. A firefighter could use his parade hat as a personal banner, representing things that were important to him, like political or religious views. Many hats also have the owner’s initials on the top, and some information about the fire company, like its name and founding date.
Patriotic themes were extremely popular, as well as classical imagery (think Lady Liberty). Two of the examples pictured are decorated with eagles, our nation’s symbol, and an image frequently seen on these parade hats. Other popular symbols are national leaders like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.