Fire Helmet, "Assistance 8 F.M.K."

Fire Helmet, "Assistance 8 F.M.K."

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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 helmet was worn by a member of the Assistance Steam Fire Engine Company No.8 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1789 as a hand engine company, it acquired a steam fire engine in 1860. The Assistance Steam Fire Engine Company No.8 operated until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. It was made by William H. Wilson of New York, New York in the mid-to-late 19th century. The frontpiece on this helmet was made by the Migeod Company. The black helmet has four combs painted gold and a metal eagle frontpiece holder mounted to the helmet’s crown. The frontpiece reads “Assistance / 8 / FMK.” The raised initials "F.M.K." likely identified the owner of the helmet.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
19th century
John M. Migoed & Son
Wilson, William H.
Migeod Company
place made
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 7 in x 15 1/4 in; 17.78 cm x 38.735 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Clothing & Accessories
Fire Helmets
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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