Fire Helmet, "Asst. Chief Engineer S. S. P."

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 1886. This helmet was likely presented to Samuel S. Pounds of Paterson, New Jersey after he finished his term as assistant chief engineer in 1886.The leather helmet is painted white and has sixty-four combs with a metal eagle frontpiece holder mounted on the crown. The rear brim of this hat displays a stamped scrolled border, two embossed hexagonal hydrants with hoses, and an engraved plate that reads "presented" to "Samuel S. Pounds, Assistant Chief Engineer, P. F. D. 1884-1886." The leather frontpiece bears the text “ASS’T CHIEF/ENGINEER/S.S.P.” and a painted image of a Silsby steam pumper in the center. Samuel Pounds had been a member of the Lafayette Steam Fire Engine Company No. 8. He was a machinist by trade.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
late 19th century
Pounds, Samuel S.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 9 in x 14 in x 11 in; 22.86 cm x 35.56 cm x 27.94 cm
place made
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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