Fire Helmet, "Reading Hose 1"

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Description
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.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
early 19th century
maker
Gratacap, Henry T.
place made
United States
used
United States: Pennsylvania, Reading
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 14 1/2 in x 10 1/4 in; 36.83 cm x 26.035 cm
ID Number
2005.0233.0185
accession number
2005.0233
catalog number
2005.0233.0185
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Work
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Helmets
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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