Fire Helmet, "Reading Hose 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 Henry T. Gratacap of New York, New York in the mid- 19th century. The helmet is painted black overall with the four combs painted gold, thin gold triangles in the crown’s sections, and a red painted underbrim. A rosette pattern is embossed around the helmet’s brim, with the date “1819” painted in gold on the rear brim. Gratacap’s maker’s mark is stamped between the 8 and 1 if the date. A leather eagle serves as a frontpiece holder emerging from the crown of the helmet. The black leather frontpiece reads “READING HOSE/1/INStd/JULY 4th/1819.” The Reading Hose Company No. 1 of Reading, Pennsylvania was founded on July 4th, 1819 for the purpose of purchasing hose since the town had only bucket companies at the time.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
early 19th century
Gratacap, Henry T.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 14 1/2 in x 10 1/4 in; 36.83 cm x 26.035 cm
place made
United States
United States: Pennsylvania, Reading
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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