Fire Helmet, "South Penn 31 Hose"

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 E.A.G. Roulstone of Roxbury, Massachusetts around 1864. The leather helmet has four combs, the brim is embossed with an ivy-vine design and there is a leather frontpiece holder attached to the crown. The frontpiece has become detached from the helmet and has decayed a bit. The frontpiece reads “SOUTH PENN/31/HOSE.”
Currently not on view
Object Name
work hat
helmet, fire
date made
19th century
Roulstone, E. A. G.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
paint (overall material)
black (overall color)
overall: 9 in x 11 in; 22.86 cm x 27.94 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


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