Fire Helmet, "James Jenkin"

Fire Helmet, "James Jenkin"

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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 was made by William H. Wilson of New York, New York in the late 19th century. The black helmet has four prominent combs with a metal lion frontpiece holder mounted on the crown of the helmet. The helmet lacks a frontpiece, making attribution difficult. A paper label inside the helmet reads “James S. Jenkin’s Lehigh, Rainbow, and Eagle Vein Coal Depot, 9th and Wallace Sts., Philadelphia.” The hat is stamped with the initials “J.S. J. II” probably referring to James Jenkins.
Currently not on view
Object Name
helmet, fire
date made
late 19th century-early 20th century
Wilson, William H.
place made
United States
Physical Description
leather (overall material)
overall: 9 1/2 in x 15 1/4 in x 11 in; 24.13 cm x 38.735 cm x 27.94 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
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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