Fire Helmet, "Western Hose SFE Co. 26"


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 manufactured by Cairns & Brother of New York, New York around 1860. The helmet has eight combs and is painted black overall. An ivy-vine scrollwork pattern is stamped around the brim of the hat. A metal eagle’s head is attached to the crown of the helmet to serve as a frontpiece holder. The leather frontpiece reads “WESTERN / HOSE / 26 / SFE Co.” Founded in 1836 as the Western Hose Company No. 26 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it acquired a steam fire engine in 1863 and operated as the Western Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company No.26 until their services were dispensed with by Common Council in September 14, 1867.

Date Made: ca 1860

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: 2005.0233.0223Accession Number: 2005.0233Catalog Number: 2005.0233.0223

Object Name: helmet, fire

Physical Description: leather (overall material)Measurements: overall: 8 in x 10 3/4 in x 14 in; 20.32 cm x 27.305 cm x 35.56 cm


Record Id: nmah_1335207

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