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Object Record

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Catalog Number 2016.002.001
Description San Mateo Fire Department Helmet, c. 1889-1919. A fading white leather fire helmet. It has a wide brim that is longer and wider in the rear. The crown of the helmet is made up of eight segments with ridges separating the segments. There are four larger ridges and four smaller ridges that meet at the top of the crown. At the top of the crown there is a metal hi-eagle that is holding the front shield in its beak. The front shield is made up of tooled leather and has a high crest; it is held in place by four metal rivets at the corners and by the eagle at the top. The front shield reads, "SMFD" and has two crossed yellow bugles or nozzles in front of a stylized orange fire. Above the emblem there is a banner of red leather, it looks like there was once lettering or numbers but they are now ineligible. Behind the front shield, and below the eagle, reads "CAIRNS & BRO". At the rear of the helmet a metal ring is affixed for hanging up the helmet. The leather is flaking and in some parts the white coloring has worn off showing the natural leather underneath. The interior of the helmet has a soft leather lining covering a metal band. At the center of the interior there is a metal circle that reads, "CAIRNS & BRO / NEW YORK / VENTILATED HAT".
Object Name Helmet, Firefighter's
Collection 3D - Clothing
Title San Mateo Fire Department Helmet, c. 1889-1919
Date c. 1889-1919
Creator Cairns & Brother, Inc.
Role Manufacturer
Inscription Text "SMFD (front shield); CAIRNS & BRO (behind front shield, beneath eagle); CAIRNS & BRO / NEW YORK / VENTILATED HAT (center of interior)"
Provenance Owned by Richard Lee, a San Mateo Insurance Broker who had it in his San Mateo Office (BLN Insurance) in the 1960s.
Notes "Fire helmets have long provided firefighters a visible layer of safety. Cairns & Brother Inc. of Clifton, NJ is recognized for their classic New Yorker fire helmet and fire service helmets for firefighters. Vintage Cairns fireman helmets are highly desired by a diverse group of firefighting memorabilia collectors.
"Whether a novice or long-time collector, eBay provides buyers the unique opportunity to discover Cairns fire helmets that were issued in their 150+ year history. Thanks for joining us in recognizing the importance of Cairns & Brother helmets and their place in the history of firefighting!
"History of Cairns & Brother Inc.
"The fire helmet got its start in 1740 when a New York City fireman named Jacobus Turk created a round leather helmet with a slender rim. Despite continued efforts to improve the helmet's durability, the leather helmet quickly rotted over the next hundred years.
"By the 1840s, Henry Gratacap, a luggage maker who developed luggage designed specifically to withstand the harsh conditions of ocean travel, changed firefighting history with his creation of a fire helmet created from stout tanned cowhide and supported with leather strips. He added a sloped brim on the back to direct water to flow away from the firefighter and christened it the "New Yorker" fire helmet
"The two Cairns brothers were metal badge makers when they saw Gratacap's New Yorker and realized that a holder could mount a badge on the front of the helmets allowing firefighters to distinguish between fire companies. They soon began supplying Gratacap with holders and badges for his helmets. In 1850, the Cairns and Gratacap joined forces under one roof and established Cairns & Brother Inc. to produce fire helmets and, later, a wide inventory of fire equipment and supplies.
"Over the next 150 years, Cairns embraced contemporary technology advances to stay on top of the latest materials to better protect firefighters. The 1920s brought the introduction of helmets made from aluminum. In 1974, the first OHSA compliant helmets were issued and called the 770 Philadelphian. The 1980s brought helmets made with kevlar materials to the forefront.
"Cairns, the leader in the fire service helmet industry throughout the United States and Canada was purchased in August of 2000 by the Mine Safety Association Co. (MSA) who remain focused on providing the highest quality of fire equipment in the 21st century.
"The fire helmet has become so symbolic of the firefighter...even to the extent that "leatherhead" is a nickname for firefighters coined after the leather helmets they wear. The Cairns fire service helmet exemplifies the bravery, steadfastness and dedication of firefighters worldwide."
[ 3/23/2016]
Dimensions H-9.25 W-10.75 D-13.5 inches
Search Terms Fire
Fire Departments - San Mateo
Fire Fighting Equipment
Fire History
Lee, Richard
San Mateo
San Mateo - Fire Department
San Mateo Fire Department 1888-1990
Subjects Fire
Fire engines & equipment
Fire fighters
Fire fighting
Fire helmets
San Mateo
People Lee, Richard