Fire Helmet, "S.G."


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 hat was manufactured by William H. Wilson of New York, New York in the 19th century. The helmet has a frontpiece holder shaped in the form of a fox and displays the founding date of the company—“1845”—in gold lettering on the rear brim. The initials “SG” on the back of the crown represent the Spring Garden Hose No. 36 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1845, it operated until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. The front crown displays stamped lettering that reads “JBT 36,” most likely representing the initials of the owner and his company number.

Date Made: 19th century

Manufacturer: Wilson, William H.

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: 2005.0233.0217Accession Number: 2005.0233Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0217

Object Name: helmet, fire

Physical Description: leather (overall material)Measurements: overall: 9 in x 15 in; 22.86 cm x 38.1 cm


Record Id: nmah_1335102

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