Fire Helmet, "1 FD / SFD 4"

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 dates to the 19th century. The helmet has eight combs and an embossed foliage motif around the brim. The rear brim has “S.F.D. 4” painted in gold with a hook attached to the rear edge. There is a metal eagle frontpiece holder mounted to the crown of the helmet. The brown leather frontpiece has the number “1” in white in the center, with red banners at the top and bottom. The upper banner’s original text is unknown, but the lower banner reads “FD.”
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 7 1/2 in x 9 in x 10 1/2 in; 19.05 cm x 22.86 cm x 26.67 cm
place made
United States
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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