Fire Helmet, "1819"

<< >>
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 n the early 19th Century. The green hat has eight combs that are painted gold. The back of the hat has the text “FA” above the date “1819” on the rear brim. The FA likely refers to the Fire Association of Philadelphia, an insurance company founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies that incorporated in 1819. A metal eagle is mounted to the top of the helmet’s crown to serve as a frontpiece holder, but the frontpiece is missing from this helmet.
Currently not on view
date made
Gratacap, Henry T.
place made
United States
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 14 1/2 in; 21.59 cm x 36.83 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Musuem 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


Add a comment about this object