Fire Helmet, "Mitchell IV Fire Co."

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 in the early 19th century. The leather helmet is painted black with eight combs and ivy vine scroll work around the helmet’s brim. The back of the helmet has the initials “FA” flanking a fire hydrant painted in gold. This was the logo of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, an insurance company founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies in 1817. The metal frontpiece holder is in the shape of a fox, and holds a black and red frontpiece that reads “MITCHELL/IV/FIRE CO” in white text. Mitchell Fire Company No. 4 was founded in 1874 by shoemakers who were located on Federal Street in Burlington, New Jersey. The frontpiece is not original to the helmet.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
metal (part: wire brim material)
brass (part: shield holder material)
overall: 7 in x 15 in x 11 in; 17.78 cm x 38.1 cm x 27.94 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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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