Fire Helmet, "Independence Hose Steam F.E. Co. 20"

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 of New York, New York around the mid-19th century. The black helmet has four crowns with an ivy-vine scrollwork pattern embossed around the brim of the hat. The frontpiece has the number “20” in black in the center, surrounded by text on red banners that reads “INDEPENDENCE/HOSE/STEAM/FE Co.” This refers to Independence Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company, which operated around the 1860's in Philadelphia. The name of the owner “John Dobin” is on a paper label inside the hat, and the initials “JD” are painted on the underside of the brim in black.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
ca 1848
Cairns & Brother
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 14 in; 21.59 cm x 35.56 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
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

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