Fire Helmet, "1804"

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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 manufactured by H.T. Gratacap of New York, New York, in the early 19th century. The red helmet has eight combs that are painted gold. A scrolling pattern is stamped around the brim of the helmet, and Gratacap’s makers mark is stamped on the rear brim. The rear brim also has the date “1804” painted in gold with stylized sunbursts around it. A leather eagle’s head frontpiece holder is mounted on to the top of the helmet’s crown. The missing frontpiece makes attribution difficult, as there were several volunteer fire companies founded in 1804 in both Philadelphia and New York.
Currently not on view
date made
19th century
Gratacap, Henry T.
place made
United States
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 12 in x 14 3/4 in; 21.59 cm x 30.48 cm x 37.465 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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