Federal Style decoration


New discoveries in Pompeii captured the imagination of early Americans.

An early influence on American fire apparatus was the Empire Style in Europe, which became the Federal style in the New World. Ancient Greek and Roman sites were being excavated at the end of the 1700's and it was big news. The simple designs being uncovered appealed to American artists. They saw these early samples of Greco-Roman culture as purer than the exaggerated Rococo designs that were popular in Europe at that time. Americans felt ties to these early cultures, where citizens had ruled themselves without kings. American furniture makers adopted chair designs from Pompeii models. American builders designed churches and houses that resembled Greek temples. American heroes were painted wearing togas. The new country was referred to as the New Greece or the Second Renaissance.

Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.

New excavations in Pompeii and Athens revealed that the white marble sculptures and buildings had originally been painted in bright colors. Americans wanted those bright colors in their houses, and on their firefighting equipment.



The American public was fascinated with the excavations going on in Rome, Pompeii, Greece and Egypt. The ornaments and styles being uncovered in Rome influenced the painted decoration on chairs used by president Washington. Thomas Jefferson designed Monticello with this early Classical language. These same symbols and motifs appeared on early fire engines. The ancient designs were redrawn in fresh ways by American builders and crafts people. Lady Liberty and George Washington joined the gods on Olympus.

Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.

Monticello was designed and redesigned by Thomas Jefferson as the Federal Style developed. The basic forms come from Palladio's models, being used in England and Europe. Jefferson made a bolder classical language by increasing the relative size of the molding details. He also chose a brand new color on the market, chrome yellow, for some interior walls. This bright color was popular on fire engines in the early 1800s.

Proportion was important to the Federal Style. The archaeological sites in Rome and Pompeii were measured and compared with Fibonacci's numbers from the Renaissance. Portrait and allegorical paintings had lots of compositional lines and measurements. Masons and builders had their own secret proportions that still linger in the sizes of window panes and other standard items.

Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.

Early Americans identified themselves with the free citizens of ancient Greece and Rome. They constructed their new buildings, furniture and vehicles with the symbols and designs of Greco-Roman culture. The humble colonial cape house was reconfigured to become a little Greek temple. The front door was moved to the gable end. Early fire engine houses were small out buildings that often had this same temple appearance.

a small wood Greek temple to hold the high-tech mechanism.a small wood Greek temple to hold the high-tech mechanism.a small wood Greek temple to hold the high-tech mechanism.a small wood Greek temple to hold the high-tech mechanism.a small wood Greek temple to hold the high-tech mechanism.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Oil painted portraits by W. Hoffman on a hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.Roman Urn on front corner of hand engine.