Fire Helmet, "Pioneer XI"


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 1850’s. The helmet is painted black overall, with its four combs painted gold. The helmet’s brim is embossed with a floral scroll pattern and the rear brim has “PROVIDENCE” painted in gold circled in red. The metal eagle frontpiece holder originally had articulated leather wings, but one is missing. A white frontpiece is held in the beak of the eagle that reads “PIONEER/X/I1st ENGINEER” in gold with red shading. Pioneer Engine Company No. 11 was located on South Main Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

Date Made: 1851-1860

Maker: unknown

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States

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: 2005.0233.0183Accession Number: 2005.0233Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0183

Object Name: helmet, fire

Measurements: overall: 7 3/4 in x 7 in x 8 1/2 in; 19.685 cm x 17.78 cm x 21.59 cm


Record Id: nmah_1333592

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