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 dates to the late 19th century. The eight comb helmet has been painted black and a metal eagle frontpiece holder is mounted onto the helmet’s crown. The black leather frontpiece has a gold number “1” with a crossed hook and ladder behind it on a red background. The top of the frontpiece reads “Moyamensing” and the bottom reads “H&L Co.” both in red. This helmet likely belonged to Chester, Pennsylvania’s Moyamensing Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, instituted in April of 1868 and incorporated in February of 1870.
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