Good Will Company Cape

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 has been painted red overall with the name “Good Will” written in gold, with the date “1804” below. The number “3” is painted in gold on each shoulder. This cape likely belonged to a member of the Good Will Steam Fire Engine Company No. 3 of Trenton, New Jersey. The Good Will Fire Company was originally organized in January of 1848, but after it became an auxiliary company to the Resolution Fire Company in December of that same year, it took the Resolution Company’s founding date of 1804 for its own.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cape, fire uniform
date made
ca 1804
Physical Description
oil cloth (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 28 in x 43 in; 71.12 cm x 109.22 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Fire Fighting
Fraternal Associations
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Firefighting Capes
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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