Fire Helmet, "W. I. N."


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 white leather helmet was made by Henry T. Gratacap of New York, New York around 1850. The helmet has eight combs and a metal frontpiece holder in the shape of a greyhound. A red felt sweatband with maker’s label is inside the crown. The helmet has an embossed floral design around the brim, and the date “1811” is painted in gold on the rear brim. The owner’s initials, “W.I.N.,” are painted in red on the rear brim’s underside.

Date Made: ca 1850

Maker: Gratacap, Henry T.

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement, Clothing & Accessories, Work, Firefighting Collection, Fire Helmets


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2005.0233.0174Accession Number: 2005.0233Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0174

Object Name: helmet, fire

Physical Description: leather (overall material)white (overall color)Measurements: overall: 9 in x 15 1/4 in; 22.86 cm x 38.735 cm


Record Id: nmah_1332984

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