Fire Helmet, "16 OFS"


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 made by Cairns & Brother of New York, New York, during the first half of the 20th century. The helmet has eight combs and is painted red overall, with an ivy-vine scroll pattern stamped around the brim. A metal frontpiece holder extends from the crown with a white leather frontpiece that reads “16/OFS.” The frontpiece has been reused, and the number "11" can be seen in faded stitching at the center.

Date Made: after 1920

Maker: Cairns & Brother

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: New York, New York City

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: 2005.0233.0220Accession Number: 2005.0233Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0220

Object Name: helmet, fire

Physical Description: leather (overall material)Measurements: overall: 7 1/2 in x 10 1/2 in; 19.05 cm x 26.67 cm


Record Id: nmah_1335133

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