Fire Helmet, "CHIEF D.I.T."

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 white leather helmet was made around 1889. The helmet has 24 combs, a metal eagle frontpiece holder, and a rear brim embossed with an image of a hoses, hooks, ladders, lamps, and horns. A metal plate sits in the center of the image with the engraving “David I. Turnbull, appointed May 1, 1889.” The frontpiece reads “CHIEF/D.I.T.” with a painted central image of a fire trumpet with a helmet perched on top and a variety of firefighting tools crossed behind the trumpet. The helmet belonged to David I. Turnbull, who served as Chief Engineer in Paterson in 1877 and was appointed Chief Engineer by the Paterson aldermen, serving from May 1889 until May 1890.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
Turnbull, David I.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
white (overall color)
black (part color)
yellow (part color)
overall: 14 3/4 in x 11 in x 8 3/4 in; 37.465 cm x 27.94 cm x 22.225 cm
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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