Fire Helmet, "Pioneer XI"

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 1850’s. The helmet is painted black overall, with its four combs painted gold. The helmet’s brim is embossed with a floral scroll pattern and the rear brim has “PROVIDENCE” painted in gold circled in red. The metal eagle frontpiece holder originally had articulated leather wings, but one is missing. A white frontpiece is held in the beak of the eagle that reads “PIONEER/X/I1st ENGINEER” in gold with red shading. Pioneer Engine Company No. 11 was located on South Main Street in Providence, Rhode Island.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
overall: 7 3/4 in x 7 in x 8 1/2 in; 19.685 cm x 17.78 cm x 21.59 cm
place made
United States
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