Fire Helmet, "2355 / PFD / 59"

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 metal fire helmet was made by Cairns & Brother of New York, New York around 1950. This 20th century metal fire helmet features the hallmarks of Gratacap’s early 19th century leather helmet design including the protective combs, elongated rear brim, eagle frontpiece holder and leather frontpiece. The frontpiece holder features a painted design of the fireman’s cross, with a picture of a hook and ladder on the left side of the cross and the helmet on the right side of the cross. The leather frontpiece reads “2355/59/PFD.”
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
early 1950s
Cairns & Brother
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
leather (part: shield material)
overall: 8 in x 14 1/4 in; 20.32 cm x 36.195 cm
shield: 6 in x 5 in; 15.24 cm x 12.7 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

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