Fire Helmet, "MECHANIC 37"

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 leather helmet has four combs and is painted black, with ivy-vine scrollwork around the hat’s brim. A metal lion frontpiece holder is mounted onto the crown of the helmet that holds a white leather frontpiece. The frontpiece originally read “MECHANICS/37” but some of the letters are missing from the upper banner, and the initials are completely absent from the lower banner.
Currently not on view
Object Name
work hat
helmet, fire
Wilson, William H.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
black (overall color)
overall: 8 in x 9 in x 11 in; 20.32 cm x 22.86 cm x 27.94 cm
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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