Fire Helmet, "Southwark Hose 9"

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 is painted white overall, with gold-painted combs and black triangle designs in the segments. It is similar in style to a pith helmet with a golden frontpiece affixed to the front of the helmet that originally read “SOUTHWARK/HOSE/9/FD,” but many of the letters are missing.
Currently not on view
Object Name
work hat
helmet, fire
date made
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
paint (overall material)
white (overall color)
overall: 9 1/4 in x 6 1/4 in x 10 1/2 in; 23.495 cm x 15.875 cm x 26.67 cm
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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