Fire Helmet, "Chief"

Description
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 Cairns & Brother of New York, New York. The helmet has eight combs and is painted white overall, with a leaping metal lion frontpiece holder. The leather frontpiece is painted white with a painted gold rim, with the word “CHIEF” in large gold letters in the center of the frontpiece. Two red ribbons are attached to the back of the helmet’s brim for decorative effect.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
20th century
maker
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 9 in x 14 1/2 in x 11 1/4 in; 22.86 cm x 36.83 cm x 28.575 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
2005.0233.0214
accession number
2005.0233
catalog number
2005.0233.0214
subject
Work
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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