Fire Helmet, "F.A."

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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 used during the 19th century, likely in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The helmet has eight combs, with a metal eagle frontpiece holder mounted on the crown. The hat is missing its front frontpiece, but the rear brim features a gold painted image of a fire hydrant with attached gushing hose, flanked by the initials “FA.” This was the logo of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, an insurance company founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies in 1817. The hat likely belonged to a fire company that was part of the Fire Association of Philadelphia. There is a paper label inside the hat that reads “Presented to Insurance Company of North American by William K. Gorhan, Ridley Park, Pa., husband of Martha Stille McIntyre Gorham, whose father, John McIntyre owned same.”
Currently not on view
date made
19th century
Fire Association
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 9 in x 14 1/2 in x 10 1/2 in; 22.86 cm x 36.83 cm x 26.67 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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