Fire Helmet, "Newton 1"

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 late 19th century. This helmet is similar to the pith helmet, deviating from the style of the standard fire helmets with an elongated rear brim. The hat is painted black, with eight combs and a metal ring on top. There is an embossed vine design on the rear brim, and a metal lion frontpiece holder mounted to the crown. The black leather frontpiece has the number “1” in the center in white, with a red banner below that reads “NEWTON” in white.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
19th century
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 11 1/2 in; 21.59 cm x 29.21 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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, Kenneth E. Behring Center


Add a comment about this object