Leather Fire Helmet

The leather fire helmet occupies an honored place in the history of modern firefighting. It is an American invention, and the original manufacturer still makes the same helmet today.

The first New York municipal fire brigade started in 1731 equipped with two technological marvels of the day, state-of-the-art pump trucks imported at great expense from London. The leader of the brigade was Jacobus Turck, a man with an inventive mind and a determination to ensure the safety of his firefighters. In the 1730's Turck invented a leather fire hat of the "stovepipe" design to keep the cinders off a fireman's head. While it certainly did that, this hat was too tall and could be knocked off in the rigors of firefighting. Another disadvantage was that these early fire hats were not reinforced with metal, therefore providing little protection to the fireman's head in the event of a blow from above.

In 1836 a luggage maker and volunteer fireman named Henry T. Gratacap invented a leather fire helmet that became the prototype for all future fire headgear. Gratacap had already gained a reputation for manufacturing sturdy, well-made luggage, and he used the same skills and materials to make his fire helmet. The result was a low, dome-shaped helmet made of leather reinforced with metal "combs" for added strength. There was a shield-shaped plate on the front and a brim that tapered downward toward the back to keep water out of the fireman's face.

Early leather fire helmets were made by the Cairns and Brother company. Their product, made according to Gratacap's design, was called the New Yorker and is now the standard design for fire helmets all over the world. The Cairns company is still in business today and their product is virtually unchanged since its birth in the 19th century.

Also check out: Cairns Leather Fire Helmet

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