Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags



Web ID: ofj-1004
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 76" x 46.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 64" x 34.5"
Across antique American objects related to the topic of firefighting, graphic parade banners are incredibly rare. None are illustrated in the five reference texts on the subject, in my personal library, and a thorough scouring of digital resources, including museums, turned up but a tiny handful of pre-1920’s era examples, almost all of which include verbiage identifying a hose company, or a fire-related organization, but no imagery. This is surprising, given the availability of custom-made banners, marketed to fraternal organizations of all sorts, political, religious, and social clubs, etc., in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, which are encountered quite regularly in the marketplace, in various forms. What’s even more surprising is the extreme frequency with which fire companies participated in parades, festivals, and celebrations of all sorts, almost always accompanied by a band, actually hired by the company. Fanciful regalia was a natural part of the fanfare. Like state and local militia units, hose companies were as much social clubs as they were first responders to protect their communities, competing for the best uniforms and equipment, spit-shined and polished to the extreme.

By far the best collection of early fire-related banners appears to be in the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY) Museum of Firefighting, in town of Hudson. The York County Pennsylvania Fire Museum has at least one example. The New York City Fire Museum exhibited a fantastic example in 2023, and I discovered a great one in the archives of a textile conservator. Others surely survive at various hose houses, still in operation.

Nowhere have I encountered an example as graphic as this, made for the West Side Hose Company No. 3 of Steelton, Pennsylvania. Made of silk satin, with a scalloped, black register at the top, gold-fringed and tasseled, the body of the textile is a deep golden yellow, with the bottom edge finished like the black portion above. The name of the company appears along the top, in block letters, with “No. 3” flanking a pair of crossed speaking trumpets in between, decorated with a bow. All of this is gilded and outlined in red paint. The central medallion, flanked by fanciful torches and framed in scrollwork, is that of West Side Hose’s new chemical and hose carriage, received by them in 1904. Below, on a scrolling, black, appliqued banner, is the name “Steelton,” with “PA” underneath, in the gold field, all of this in Roman characters, with gilded and outlined in red, like the other text. Steelton is its own municipality, but is best described as a borough of the city of Harrisburg, constituting the southern portion, east of the Susquehanna, where the Pennsylvania Steel Company (later Bethlehem Steel, today Cleveland Cliffs) is located, hence the origin of the name. The banner is backed with tan cotton sateen. All of the stitching and binding was done by machine. Six, gold, silk loops were affixed along the top edge to hold six heavy brass rings. Through these a rod would be inserted, and an upright staff attached perpendicular to it, so that the banner could be carried on an upright staff.

Receipt of new fire apparatus was a huge event for an early hose company, which often had just one wagon of some nature. The West Side Hose organization, chartered in 1898, was formed from a Republican Club in Steelton, the members of which became the firefighters. Prior to this time, existing fire companies in the vicinity serviced the northern regions of Harrisburg. Steel production requires intense heat, and jobs that require molted steel at the mill are well-known to be extremely dangerous, even today.

The original apparatus acquired by West Side Hose No. 3 was a silver mounted parade hose carriage, purchased in 1898 from Harrisburg’s eldest fire company, Citizen’s Hose No. 1. Ceremoniously housed on October 12th, 1900, after the completion of a hose house at 285 Myers Street, the wagon appears to have been hand-pulled.

Two years later, in July of 1904, a two-story extension was added to the current structure, to house a new chemical & hose carriage that had been ordered, plus two horses to draw it. Newspaper articles detail the grand arrival of the new fire wagon, the celebration of which took place on August 28th, 1904. Made by Stewart & Stewart of Rochester, NY, this was ceremoniously received by Paxtang Hook & Ladder No. 2, and housed by Citizen’s Fire Company No. 1, with the Citizens Band in attendance, hired by West Side Hose No. 3, and the Highspire Band, hired by Balwin Hose Company No. 3, also present. Speeches accompanied the event. Fire companies in this period hired bands for pretty much every occasion one might imagine, each competing with one-another for the grandest display. A parade was held with all of the above participating, and a reception was held thereafter. Though scheduled to occur at 7 PM, a fire broke out at the steel mill at 6:45, and West Side Hose – in the preceding years more commonly called West Side Chemical, rushed to the scene with their new carriage to help extinguish a blaze cased by the steel mill’s No. 4 blast furnace. This presumably led to a delay in the festivities.

At least two images survive of the West Side Hose Co. No. 3 chemical & hose apparatus, each with a different team of horses. Though we could find no record of the banner in newspaper coverage, it is the exact carriage illustrated in the hand-painted, center medallion. I am certain that it was commissioned for the celebration of the carriage’s housing in 1904. By way of construction, the banner is typical of the 1870’s-1910 era, being more indicative of the 19th century than the 20th, save for the applique of the black banner, which was accomplished with a zigzag machine stitch. This first appears in flag-making around 1890, where it was used to applique stars. It became widely used in that function by 1895, and by 1900 was the industry standard.

The chemical & hose carriage of West Side Hose/Chemical No. 3 remained in use until 1917, when it was replaced by a motor-driven chemical & hose fire truck. The truck was replaced again in 1926.

It is of interest to note that a July 23rd, 1925 article in the Evening News (Harrisburg) records a silk American flag and banner ordered by West Side Hose Company, the latter of which was to be carried in parades and bore the company’s name. Photographic record of it survives from 1930, hanging upon the doors of the hose house, as a backdrop for the West Side Hose Co. Basketball Team.

At one point, at least six different fire companies operated in Steelton. In 1984, the remaining stations, including Citizens Hose Co. No. 1, West Side Hose Co. No. 3, and Baldwin Hose Co. No. 4, merged to form the Steelton Fire Department, with new quarters at 185 N. Front Street.

* The FASNY Museum also displays a plethora of modern and/or reproduction banners in the large halls containing engines, pumpers, etc.

Mounting: The banner was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.

The banner was hand-stitched to a background is 100% hemp fabric, ivory in color, with a heavy twill weave, laid over a supportive panel. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. A shadowbox was created to accommodate the staff. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is minor to moderate craquelure and minor to modest loss in the gilded and painted elements. All of these were left as-is, with no inpainting. There is minor to modest soiling. There is some splitting in the silk fabric throughout. Because the silk of this era is generally weighted, it is fragile of its own accord. Makers and merchants added mineral salts and other agents to the fabric, which was caustic and affected its stability. In this instance, the fabric is significantly more intact than usual for this type of banner, in this scale. Affected regions, where necessary, were supported from behind with panels of silk or cotton, archivally adhered, with every intent to be as least invasive as possible. Splits on the sides were handled in a similar fashion. Two of the tassels were absent. I replaced these with a matched pair of the precise period, inserting them on the top register, while removing the original from the right, top position, and moving it to fill the void along the bottom. The banner’s presentation is nothing short of stunning, displaying its age gracefully.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1904
Latest Date of Origin: 1904
State/Affiliation: Pennsylvania
War Association:
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281