Fire Helmet, "Robert W. Chanler / Red Hook"

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 dates to the early 20th century. The helmet was originally painted black, but paint has flaked off of the helmet. A scrolling pattern is stamped around the brim of the hat. A metal eagle’s head frontpiece holder is mounted on to the helmet’s crown, which holds a black stippled leather frontpiece. The frontpiece has a white “1” and hook and ladder in the center, with red banners above and below with white lettering that reads “ROBERT W CHANLER/RED HOOK”. The Robert W. Chanler Ladder Company was located in Red Hook, New York. The Chanler Family was very influential in the Red Hook area, owning the Rokeby estate in the hamlet of Barrytown. Robert Chanler served several years as a county sheriff and New York State Assemblyman in the early 20th century, while also making a name for himself as a painter.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
late 19th century
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 3/4 in x 10 1/2 in x 14 in; 22.225 cm x 26.67 cm x 35.56 cm
place made
United States
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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