Fire Helmet, "Western Hose SFE Co. 26"

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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 Cairns & Brother of New York, New York around 1860. The helmet has eight combs and is painted black overall. An ivy-vine scrollwork pattern is stamped around the brim of the hat. A metal eagle’s head is attached to the crown of the helmet to serve as a frontpiece holder. The leather frontpiece reads “WESTERN/HOSE/26/SFE Co”, but may not be original to the helmet. The Western Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company operated in Philadelphia in the 1860's.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1860
Cairns & Brother
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 8 in x 10 3/4 in x 14 in; 20.32 cm x 27.305 cm x 35.56 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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