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 Anderson & Jones of New York, New York around 1886. This helmet was likely presented to J.J. Rowe of Ossining, New York to commemorate his position as first assistant engineer in 1886. The leather helmet is painted white and has sixteen combs with a metal eagle frontpiece holder mounted on the crown. The hat’s brim has a stamped scrolled border, with two hydrants flanking a frontpiece shaped brass plate in the rear that bears the engraving “To J.J. Rowe, by Ossining Hose Company, 1886.” The leather frontpiece bears the text “1st ASS’T /ENGINEER/J.J.R.” and a painted image of spider-type hose reel in the center.