Fire Helmet, "Foreman No. 3, H K W"

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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 William H. Wilson of New York, New York in the mid-to-late 19th century. The helmet is painted black overall and its combs are painted gold, with a gold arrow design painted between the combs. The helmet has a floral design in gold embossed around the brim, and a metal lion frontpiece holder. The frontpiece is painted white, and reads “FOREMAN/H 3 C/H.K.W” in black. This helmet likely belonged to H.K. Woodruff of the Independent Hose Company No. 3, who served as foreman of the company from about 1863-1865.
Currently not on view
date made
Wilson, John
Wilson, William H.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
black (overall color)
overall: 15 3/4 in x 11 1/2 in; 40.005 cm x 29.21 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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