Fire Helmet, "S.G."

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 hat was manufactured by William H. Wilson of New York, New York in the 19th century. The helmet has a frontpiece holder shaped in the form of a fox and displays the founding date of the company—“1845”—in gold lettering on the rear brim. The initials “SG” also appear on the back of the crown, possibly indicating the initials of the wearer. The front crown displays stamped lettering that reads “JBT 36,” but the meaning is unknown.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
19th century
Wilson, William H.
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 9 in x 15 in; 22.86 cm x 38.1 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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