Fire Helmet, "Cataract Hose 1 M.F.D."

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 early-style leather helmet dates to approximately 1838. A marking on the interior identifies that it likely belonged to a “Cataract Hose 1” Company of the “M.F.D” fire department. The leather helmet has four combs. While many later helmets had a metal eagle frontpiece holder, this helmet has an eagle made of leather which is part of the front comb.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
1838
maker
unknown
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
black (overall color)
Measurements
overall: 14 in x 10 in; 35.56 cm x 25.4 cm
ID Number
2005.0233.0141
accession number
2005.0233
catalog number
2005.0233.0141
subject
Fire Fighting
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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