Fire Helmet, "Asst. Chief Engineer F. W. K."

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 made by Cairns & Brother of New York, New York around 1888. This helmet was likely presented to Frank W. King of Paterson, New Jersey after he finished his term as assistant chief engineer in 1888. The leather helmet is painted white and has sixty-four combs with a metal eagle frontpiece holder mounted on the crown. The brim has a stamped scrolled border, with two hydrants flanking a frontpiece-shaped brass plate in the rear that bears the engraving "Frank W. King, Ass't Chief Engineer, 1886-1888." The leather frontpiece bears the text “ASS’T CHIEF/ENGINEER/FWK” and a painted image of spider-type hose reel in the center. Frank W. King had been a member of the Hibernia Hose Co. No. 3 of Paterson and served as the company's secretary before his election to Assistant Chief Engineer, with its standard two years of service. He was a machinist by trade.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
ca 1888
King, Frank W.
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 13 3/4 in x 10 3/4 in; 34.925 cm x 27.305 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Fire Fighting
Clothing & Accessories
Firefighting Collection
Fire Helmets
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Fire Helmets
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

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