Fire Helmet, "N.Y. Volunteer Association"

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 Anderson & Jones of New York, New York around 1845. The black helmet has an embossed ivy-vine design around the helmet’s brim. The helmet has 32 combs and a metal eagle frontpiece holder attached to its crown. The black leather frontpiece has a central image of a speaking trumpet topped by a fire helmet, with a variety of firefighting paraphernalia including hoses, hooks, and axes behind it. The frontpiece reads “N.Y./VOLUNTEER/ASSOCIATION/HKW” around the central image. On the rear underbrim is an inset that bears the text “Presented to/H.K. Woodruff by/ G.J.D. M.S.D.V./M.L. J.E.M./P.S.D.V.” This hat was presented to H.K. Woodruff, a volunteer firefight formerly of the Independent Hose Company No. 3, upon the organization of the New York Volunteer Firemen’s Association. The Firemen’s Association was organized in February of 1884 and was filled with ex-volunteer firemen who wished to keep the memory of volunteer firefighting alive after the creation of the paid fire department in New York.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
Anderson & Jones
Anderson & Jones
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 3/4 in x 15 1/8 in x 10 1/4 in; 22.225 cm x 38.4175 cm x 26.035 cm
place made
United States
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

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.