Fire Helmet, "Franklin 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 likely dates to the middle of the 19th century. The helmet has eight combs and is painted brown with a shiny lacquer-like finish. An ivy-vine pattern is embossed around the brim of the helmet, and a metal eagle frontpiece holder is mounted onto the crown of the helmet. A ring is attached to the crown of the hat where the combs intersect. The helmet has a detached brown frontpiece with a large gold number “1” in the center with a crossed hook and ladder behind it. The banner above reads “FRANKLIN.” The exact company that this helmet belonged to is hard to identify since many volunteer companies adopted Benjamin Franklin as their namesake.
Currently not on view
Franklin, Benjamin
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
brown (overall color)
overall: 8 3/4 in x 10 5/8 in x 14 3/4 in; 22.225 cm x 26.9875 cm x 37.465 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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