Fire Helmet, "Good Will No. 20"

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The traditional American leather firefighter’s helmet with its distinctive long rear brim, frontpiece, and crest adornment was first developed around 1821-1836 in New York City. Henry T. Gratacap, a New York City luggage maker by trade, is often credited as the developer of this style of fire helmet. Gratacap created a specially treated leather helmet with a segmented “comb” design that led to unparalleled durability and strength. The elongated rear brim (also known as a duckbill or beavertail) and frontpiece were 19th century innovations that remain the most identifiable feature of firefighter’s helmets. The body of the helmet was primarily designed to deflect falling debris, the rear brim prevented water from running down firefighters’ backs, and their sturdy crowns could aid, if necessary, in breaking windows.
This leather fire helmet was manufactured by Cairns & Brother of New York, New York in the middle of the 19th century. The helmet has eight combs, with an ivy-vine pattern stamped around the helmet’s brim. A metal eagle’s head frontpiece holder is mounted on the crown of the helmet, with a leather frontpiece that reads “GOOD WILL/20/STEAM/FE Co” in pale letters. The Good Will No. 20 Steam Fire Engine Company was a volunteer company that operated in Philadelphia during the middle of the 19th century. The Good Will No. 20 engine was manufactured by Isaac P. Morris & Company in 1859, and was eventually used by the Engine Company No. 17 of the paid city fire department until 1888.
Currently not on view
Cairns & Brother
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 14 in; 21.59 cm x 35.56 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Helmets
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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