Cairns & Bro History

Cairns & Bro Model #350 Senator Hi Eagle


This Helmet is a Cairns & Bro model # 350 Senator Hi Eagle from the late 1920's.

Cairns & Bro History and Timeline

In the Beginning - I have reproduced the following extract from Cairns and Brother Catalogue # 29.

Reprint from "Fire Engineering," July, 1936


Carefully preserved in the office of Cairns & Brother, now located at Lafayette Street and Astor Place, New York, is a certificate dated 1829, testifying to the fact that Henry T. Gratacap "is one of the firemen of the City of New York." Those were the days of watch towers, leather buckets and hand pumpers, when firemen wore high hats of felt and paper or "leathern caps." The firemen of the New York City Volunteer Department were ordered to wear leather "caps" as early as 1813. The purpose of the cap was to designate their membership in the department. but Mr. Gratacap soon saw the necessity for something that would give protection as well.

In 1836 he set up a small shop at Broadway and Walker Street, New York for the purpose of manufacturing firemen's helmets, and thus founded the business which is now,· and has been for many years past, known as Cairns & Brother.

Search of early records indicates that one Jacob Turk made a "leathern fire cap" as early as 1740, but Mr. Gratacap is credited with being the first to make the hardened leather fire helmet with enlarged brim, and also with being the first to decorate the helmet with the brass eagle head, a style which is traditionally known as the American Regulation. The fundamentals of his design are found in the most popular models of today, though many improvements have since been made. The demand for this helmet grew, soon making larger quarters necessary, and when Mr.Gratacap moved to 143 Grand Street in 1850, his friends freely predicted that to go so far "up- town" would be ruination. On the contrary his business prospered, and in 1869 he sold out to two Cairns brothers, Jasper and Henry. They in turn were succeeded by two more Cairns brothers, Edward and Irving. lrving survives and at 84, is still active in the business. His successor is a son, Edword, and associated with the firm for nearly 50 years is a nephew of Irvinq, WaIter. 

The firm name Cairns and Brother remains unchanged and is favorably known to firemen of the U.S. A.,
Canada and many
foreign countries. Their entire career has been devoted to the manufacture of firemen's equipment. specializing in helmets, and while the business never reaches large proportions (mainly because of the long life of the product), the firm's record of continuous operation for a century is a tribute to enerqetic and honest management.

The trade-mark of the firm is a fireman striding through flames, with trumpet held aloft and a child in his arms.

Standing in the firm's office is a wooden statue of this trademark three feet high, wearing a miniature helmet with his breast adorned by a solid gold badge. The figure was hewn from solid oak by an
old carver of figure heads for sailing vessels in old times. This man, whose name is not known, was one
of a group of volunteer firemen who for many years
came daily to the old Gratacap shop and spent hours in talk, playing cribbage and smoking. An interesting reference to this group is found in an early history of the Volunteer Fire Department of the City of New York:" A certain place in Grand Street, neither a cigar store nor a rum shop, where fire laddies were wont to congregate," and said Mr. Gratacap, "blow fire-talk from daylight until ten at night. I gave them tobacco and water, but no liquor."


Gatacap Certificate

The Timeline

So what do we know about Cairns & Bro history?                                   Under Construction

1836 Note 1 - Henry T Gratacap sets up at Broadway and Walker, NY.   He is making his famed NEW YORKER leather fire helmet.
Note 2 - Henry is also reputed to have come up with the idea of putting helmet fronts in place to identify the fireman and or his Co./Unit.  These frontpieces are either stitched or riveted in place.
Note 3 - The two Cairns Brothers are operating a Metal Badge, Button, and Insignia business in New York and approach Henry about making metal front piece holders for his helmets.   From this one can assume the relationship between HT Gratacap (maker of Leather Helmets) and the Cairns Brothers (makers of metal products) grows.
Note 4 - A Merkitch states in his book 'Early Helmets' that Henry was taught by William Hinton who set up shop in NY in 1828.  (One can assume from this, that this is how Henry made his living as he was only a volunteer with the Fire Department of the City of New York.)
1850 Note 1 - Henry T Gratacap moves his business to larger quarters at 143 Grand Street, NY.   (Business is Booming)
1869 Note 1 - Henry T Gratacap wants to retire and sells the business to Jasper and Henry Cairns.  With the sale goes the secret recipe for producing the hardened leather as used in the making of the New Yorker helmet.   (The recipe is said to have come from Scotland and was used back before the Roman conquest of Britain, to make leather battle shields)
Note 2 - Cairns & Bro are now officially in the business of making fire helmets and continue with the famed New Yorker.
1876 Note 1 - On May 29th 1876 Edward Cairns submits a design application to the US Patent Office for the fire service cap.  The submission is granted June 13th 1876.  This design appears to be the basis for the Model # 32 that is is in my leather catalog.
1889 Note 1 - Boston helmet maker Oak Hall closes the doors, it would appear that Cairns and Brother may have made the Oak Hall Hi -Eagle for them.  They are virtually the same as the type used on the Cairns and Bro helmets except for the name embossed on the lower left side portion of the eagle.
1902 Note 1 - Irving Cairns patents the "Reenforced" hat band used in the service helmet which prevents shinkage on the 22 July 1902.
1905 Note 1 - 350 'Senator' is released.   Aluminium Helmets were sold prior to this date, but not under the model name 'Senator'.
1907 Note 1 - Cairns & Brother moved from 143 Grand Street to 186 Lafayette Street.
1932 Note 1 - The Low Eagle is introduced as standard helmet frontpiece holder
1933 Note 1 - Olsens of 72 Grand Street, absorbed by Cairns and Brother
1936 Note 1 - Cairns & Brother celebrated 100 years.
1937 Cairns and Brother release two new models in 1937. 
Note 1 - The first one is the Model # 418 Aluminium dropped brim. 
Note 2 - The second helmet is the Model # 430 leather "Warbaby".  Like many others, I thought the "Warbaby" tag was because it was made during the War years 41-45, not so, it relates to the design, "to meet the ideas of those who have a preference for a Helmet without ornamentation.  It is a combination of military and fire styles".  (Quote from the 1937 Cairns and Bro Catalogue.)
1947 Note 1 - Cairns and Bro move to a new factory at Alwood, Clifton NJ.  The 1948 Catalogue shows photos of a well established factory at this site.
1960 Note 1 - Cairns #880 'Century' introduced
1962 Note 1 - Vacuumed formed polycarbonate helmet introduced. 
Note 2 - MSA advertise that leather helmets should be in a Museum. (True! Click here)
1973 Note1 - 910P 'Continental' is introduced
1974 Note 1 - 770 'Philidephian' is introduced
1977 Note 1 - 660 'Phoenix' is introduced
1981 Note 1 - 660C 'Metro' introduced.
1990 Note 1 - Model 1000 introduced.
1992 Note 1 - Model 1010 intoduced.
2000 Note 1 - Cairns & Brother is sold to Mine Safety Appliance Co.





350 Senator with High Eagle

This a early 30s 350 Senator with high eagle from East Providence RI

Old Fireman 1800s

 1800's fireman with high eagle helmet

Cairns & Bro Logo


Another 1800's Fireman

Love the moustache

themed object
Fire Helmet Collection
Bookmark and Share
back to top

tumblr hit counter