Fire Helmet, "Continental V.V.B. 1"

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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 in New York, New York around 1845. The helmet has eight combs and is painted black with a pressed ivy-vine design around the rim. The frontpiece is painted black, with the white number “1” with a hook and ladder crossed behind it in the center. On red banners above and below the center is the text “CONTINENTAL/VVB” in raised white letters. The name Baufuskirk appears on a piece of paper inside the hat, possibly the owner’s last name.
Currently not on view
date made
Cairns & Brother
Cairns & Brother
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
brass (part: shield holder material)
overall: 9 in x 11 in x 14 in; 22.86 cm x 27.94 cm x 35.56 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art collection
Fire Fighting
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Helmets
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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