Fire Helmet, "Columbia 5 A.H."

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 in the 19th century. The leather frontpiece was made by John M. Migeod & Son of Philadelphia and added to the helmet at a later date. The red helmet has eight combs with the date “1830” painted in gold on the rear brim. The frontpiece is white with the text “COLUMBIA/5/AH” in raised letters on the front. The initials “AH” likely were the initials of the helmet’s owner. This helmet is one of the few red hats within the CIGNA collection. While helmet color could identify a firefighter's company rank and apparatus assignment, it was also an outcome of personal preference or the fire department's financial ability and willingness to buy more expensive helmets.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
19th century
John M. Migoed & Son
Cairns & Brother
Migeod Company
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
red (part color)
green (part color)
overall: 7 1/2 in x 14 1/4 in x 10 in; 19.05 cm x 36.195 cm x 25.4 cm
place made
United States
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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