The need to protect the head in battle has inspired a range of solutions over the last 2,000 years, some wildly impractical, others elegantly utilitarian. Metal helmets were a part of traditional European armor as early as 400 BC, when Roman Montefortino-style helmets were introduced. These heavy headpieces came in various shapes, from a pointed, conical design topped with a plume to the more familiar “kettle hat” shape with a rounded dome and wide circular brim.

Some early helmets covered the entire head and neck, and many included a frontal grill or hole-punched faceguard for greater protection. The goal of this equipment was protection, but beauty was not sacrificed in the process. For example, by the 1st century, ornate headgear created for higher-ranking officers was often engraved with intricate floral designs or decorations resembling human hair. Helmet styles reached their peak of complexity in France during the 1800s, when the headgear for Napoleon’s armies incorporated fur, feathers, and gilt trimming.

Possibly the most distinctive military headwear is the famous Pickelhaube, designed for the Imperial German Army. First introduced in 1842, the Pickelhaube features a large gold eagle emblem above its visor and is topped with a threatening gold spike. Variations on this style were produced through World War I, some incorporating leather chinstraps or marked with specific unit decorations. The German helmet was quickly imitated by other militaries, as seen in the design of French and British headgear from the late 1800s.

During the same era, the medieval kettle hat form was adapted for the safari helmet style. Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical colonies. The style was popularized after British troops wore pith helmets during various conflicts in colonial India during the 19th century.

Though headpieces grew more sensible during the 20th century, metal still provided the best protection against head injuries. The dark grey, blue, or green helmets of World War I were mostly made from steel, which was easily mass-produced. These examples include the French Adrian helmet, with its small metal comb along the top, and the German M16, whose design was prompted by a campaign from the medical community for improved head-protection.

World War II helmet styles were even simpler, mostly consisting of plain metal domes made to fit any head size. Some armies marked their helmets with painted insignia, like the infamous German swastika or SS logos, while a few continued to use more detailed brass emblems, as seen on the headgear of Spain, Holland, and Switzerland. The most common look was typified by the American M1, or “steel pot” design, which was made from a single metal sheet with a gently sloping rim. The olive-green M1 included an adjustable plastic liner and was equipped with two metal loops for a chinstrap. The M1 style was used through 1985, with the addition of camouflage canvas coverings during the Vietnam War.

Increased use of air forces in World War II also meant a proliferation in flight helmet designs. These varied from the gigantic German crash helmets, complete with protective lea...

During the first and second World Wars, some combat soldiers decorated their helmets to memorialize specific experiences or battles. Today these graphic trench-art designs are highly collectible. However, helmets from any era which indicate specific details about the wearer, like chaplain insignia or decorated chin-straps, as well as those later repurposed for use by another country’s military force, are particularly desirable among collectors.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Combat Helmets of the World

Combat Helmets of the World

Peter Suciu offers a comprehensive collection of military headgear from around the world. He showcases a big collec… [read review or visit site]

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Vintage Ww 2 Usmc Painted 4th Marine Division M-1 Helmet, Fixed Bale, LinerVietnam War Usn Aph-7 Aph-6b Gentex Corp Fighting Sea Hawks Vf-126 Flight HelmetVietnam War 1965 Usn Aph-7 Gentex Corp Fighter Pilot Flight Helmet F8 Crusader Original 1963 Usn Full Presure Flight Helmet Mk4 Mod 2 W/case *nice*mercury*x-15Imperial German Bavarian Pickelhaube Cuirassier Ww1 Wwi HelmetWw1 Relic Pickelhaube M1915 German Helmet Xv Armee-korps 1916 Strassburg Wwii Ww2 German Helmet With Original LinerComplete Msa Kevlar Ach Combat Helmet Large W/ New Ess Goggles, Pads, Multicam Italian Fascist Milizia Black Adrian HelmetGerman Helmet Wwii (german Canister Camouflage For Gasmask) Named CompleteGerman Wwii Original Camouflage Pattern M35 M40 Helmet Q62 Germany Ww2 Ops-core Fast Ballistic Maritime Helmet Multicam L/xl Occ-dial 3 Hole Navy SealWwi German 'prussian Reserve' Pickelhaube, Spike Helmet, Complete, Very Nice.Rare Original Airbone D-ring Officer + Named Helmet 502nd Pir 101st Ab BastogneSuper Ww 2 Id'd Us Army Lt.col. M-1 Helmet W/scarce St. Clair Liner, Fixed Bale,Wwi German Imperial Army Officers Spiked Helmet PickelhaubeWw2 German M-40 Normandy Camo Helmet. Q64. Name. Complete With Liner, Chinstrap. Polish 17 Century Style Lobstertail HelmetOriginal German Wwii Luftwaffe M40 Helmet Size 66/59 With No DecalsRare Ww2 Japanese Army Type 92 1932 Uniform Steel Helmet With Liner & ChinstrapWwii Us M1 Helmet-fixed Bale Front Seam-excellent & Guaranteed 100% OriginalWwi Original German Pickelhaube Wurttemberg Officer's HelmetParaclete Plate Carrier Body Armor & Kevlar Helmet + Pouches+blackwater+multicamOriginal Us Ww2 M-38 Tanker Helmet Size 7 Wilson Mkr.Us M1 Helmet Fixed Bale Second Lieutenant Mark Original 100x100 Ww2 Period Original Wwii British Paratrooper Helmet Bmb 1944 -- Named And Unit MarkedGreat Original Condition Wwii World War Ii British Leather Flight HelmetU.s. M1 Helmet Front Seam Swivel Bail W/firestone LinerNamed Dated Unit Marked Model 1891 Prussian Pickelhaube Wwi German Helmet NeatVintage Unknown Division Painted Us Ww1 Doughboy M1917 Helmet Army Usmc Marines Ww2 Cdn Dispatch Riders Helmet. Excellent Oiriginal.World War Two Us M 1 Low Pressure Saint Clairr Helmet Liner LookGerman World War Ii Army/luftwaffe Combat Helmet Leather Chin Strap Original Ww Ii Us Army M1 Steel Helmet & Liner OfficersItalian 2ww M33 Helmet Reali Carabinieri Black Paint,silver BadgeOriginal Ww2 Manufacture German Helmet National Shield Tri-color Decals New/mintSuperb Wwi Model 1915 Prussian Jaeger Shako Garde Du Corps German HelmetWwi Antique Leather German Helmet Labled Fr Koenig On Front Poor ConditionGerman Wwii M35 Dd Camo Helmet OriginalUsgi Kevlar Ballistic Helmet Msa Ach / Mich 2000 Medium W/ Nvg Mount & Dcu CoverOriginal Wwii Italian Model 1933 Helmet-vg-complete-partial German DecalGerman Ww2 Steal Luftwaffe Helmet With Soldier's NameHgu-55p Style Fighter Pilot Flight Helmet - Low Reserve!Genuine Russian Ssh36 Hasanka Helmet, Casque Stahlhelm Casco Elmetto Kaska Ww2Hgu Pilot Flight Helmet Gentex Side Communication Microphone MbuGentex Hgu-68/p Pilot Flight Helmet LargeWwii Us Army Fixed Bale Helmet Inland Liner Chinstrap Minty Officer Captain BarsOriginal Wwii Us Rare M1 Helmet Liner - Factory Camo - WestinghouseWwii German Luftwaffe M35 Helmet Trench Art Collage, Celebrities, Military...Ww2 German Helmet. M-40. Size 68. With Brown Camouflage Textured Paint.Usn Navy Aph-5 Pilot Flight Helmet Project ,hgu, Sph, Afh, Cwu, Gentex, Sierra Original Wwi Us Army 32nd Infantry Div. Painted M1917 Helmet, Complete... SuperbWwi M1916 German Military Steel Trench Helmet Wilcox L2 G05 3 Hole Nvg W/screws Helmet Mount + Arm Complete L2g05 Socom Us Ww2 Helmet Net Mint And Unissued Dennison 1944Msa Mich 2001 Large Helmet Nsw Aor1 Aor2 MarsocWorld War Ii M-35 German Helmet - No DecalsWw2 Relic Camo German Combat Helmet With Shrapnel DamageOriginal Wwi United States 3rd Army Corps Painted American Combat Helmet AefVintage Military Helmet