Fire Helmet, "Good Will No. 20"

Description
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.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
maker
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 8 1/2 in x 14 in; 21.59 cm x 35.56 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
2005.0233.0215
accession number
2005.0233
catalog number
2005.0233.0215
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Work
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Helmets
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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