Fire Helmet, "Hibernia"

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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 William H. Wilson of New York, New York in the mid-19th century. The helmet’s crown is painted green and its eight combs are painted gold. The underside of the helmet’s brim is painted red. A metal eagle’s head frontpiece holder is mounted onto the top of the crown, which holds a leather frontpiece that reads “HIBERNIA/1.” The Hibernia Fire Engine Company was one of the oldest fire companies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1752 by Protestant Irish colonists. The green and gold colors on the helmet reflect this heritage.
Currently not on view
date made
19th century
Wilson, William H.
place made
United States
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 9 in x 15 1/2 in x 11 1/2 in; 22.86 cm x 39.37 cm x 29.21 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
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


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