Fire Helmet, "Veteran Philadelphia"

Fire Helmet, "Veteran / Philadelphia"

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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 fire helmet likely dates to the late 19th century. A metal eagle frontpiece holder is mounted to the crown of the helmet, holding a white frontpiece with a central painted image of a double-decker Philadelphia-style fire engine. The top of the frontpiece has a black banner with white lettering that originally read “VETERAN” and the bottom of the frontpiece has a black banner with white lettering that originally read “PHILADELPHIA.” The rear brim of the helmet has the golden letters “FA” flanking a gold image of a fire hydrant with attached hose. This was the logo of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, an insurance company founded by a group of eleven volunteer engine companies and five volunteer hose companies in 1817 that would have included the company of this helmet’s owner. The gold “V” on the back of the helmets crown signifies the veteran status of the wearer.
Currently not on view
date made
late 19th century
place made
United States
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
paint (overall material)
white (overall color)
overall: 8 3/4 in x 14 3/4 in; 22.225 cm x 37.465 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Home 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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