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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical colonies.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    

Ww2 German M38 Paratrooper/fallschirmjager Helmet Late War Made By Ckl71 Bno.473Ww Ll German Double-decal M-35 Army Helmet Leather Liner IntactWw2 German Helmet M42 Hkp66 - Original Us Wwii M-1 Usmc Camouflage Helmet & Liner Usa Ww2 Marine Corps Original Ww2 Original Wwii Japanese Air Force Pilot Flight Helmet W/ Capture Papers Lst 854Us Combat Helmet Early Fixed Bales Hawley Fiber Liner Green Buckle Chinstrap Ww2Wwii Us M3 Flak Helmet With LinerOriginal Wwii German Helmet1790-1800 Austrian, German, Prussian Helmet, Casque, Mitre W/ Tombstone PlateWw 2 German Helmet With Stamp Ww Ii Ww2 U.s. HelmetJapanese Imperial Ww2 Marines Navy Helmet Japan Wwii Us M1 Helmet Fixed Bale With Westinghouse Rayon Jungle Camo Liner - Exc++Hgu-2/p Vietnam Pilot Flight HelmetOriginal Ww1 1916 German Pickelhaube Helmet W/ Leather LinerWw2 German M40 Luftwaffe Helmet - RelicWw2 German M-35 Helmet. Spanish Volunteer. "blue Division". Size 64. Complete.Orig Vietnam Ranger Helmet-size 9, Ex CondAntique French Cuirassier Cuirass Cavalry Helmet Dragoon No Napoleonic Sword Peltor Comtac Iii Advanced Combat Helmet Headset (ach) Mt17h682p3ad-19 Od GreenWwi Imperial German Bayern Bavarian Pickelhaube Helmet With Case One Year Volun Vietnam Us Marine Corps Usmc M1 Camo Helmet With Original Grafitti – Estate FindOriginal Hgu-55 Pilot Flight Helmet Nvg Night Vision Mount Plate Assembly Good !Original Ww1 Prussian German Pickelhaube Spiked Helmet 1 WwWw2 German Helmet M35 Size 64. The Battle For Stalingrad. Relic Rare !!!Rare Original Wwii M1 Fixed Bale Helmet W Liner George Frost Soldier Named MarksOriginal Ww1 British Brodie Helmet - Liner Chinstrap Paper Label Rubber DonutUs Wwii M-1 Helmet Liner Early Inland Painted Insignia 88th Infantry Division World War 2 German Pith HelmetWw2 Usa Army Helmet With Liner !!!German Ww 1 Pickelhaube Helmet - Original ConditionGreat Ww1 U S Army Helmet With Liner And Chin Strap-5th Division MarkedWorld War 2 M1 Fixed Loop HelmetUsmc Helmet Lot, Ww2 1st Pattern Camo Cover Fixed Bale + Early Dough Boy Style!!Wwii German HelmetWw1 Us Doughboy Helmet With Liner And Intact ChinstrapWwi Era British Officer Pith Sun Safari Hat / Helmet W/ Orig Spike & Canvas BagOriginal German Ww1 Prussian M1895 Brass Mounted Pickelhaube HelmetWw2 Japanese Winter Tankers Helmet - RareJapanese Ww2 Type Steel Combat Helmet With Flag And Star Estate Find RareOriginal Early Vietnam War M1 Helmet, Liner, & Camouflage Cover (post Wwii Set)Wwii German Army Helmet & LinerOriginal German Ww1 Prussian M1915 Ersatz Kugelhelm Pickelhaube HelmetOriginal German Ww1 M16 Helmet Size 66 Maker Marked TjVintage Gentex Aph-5 & 6 Helicopter Helmet Wwii U.s. Army, M1 Fixed Bale Helmet, Wwii Liner, 100% Complete, Named, Serial# M40 German Dak HelmetUs Army Ach Mich Kevlar Helmet Size Large Sds Acu Camo Cover Wwii Usaaf M5 Anti-flak HelmetOrion Design Group Lbt Multicam Hybrid Ops-core Helmet Cover - Devgru Cag SealLarge Lot Army Usmc Gentex Ach/mich Combat Helmet Parts & Hardware Pasgt KevlarHard To Find Us Ww1 Camo Painted 82nd Division Helmet With Liner And ChinstrapOriginal Germany Wwi Prussian Pickelhaube Mod. 1915 Wwi Casque A Point HelmetScarce Ww 1 Us Army Camouflage Corps Camo Helmet With LinerOriginal Usaf Tinted Visor For The P-4 Flight Helmet Nice!U.s. Wwii M-1 Helmet Mid-war Westinghouse Liner Khaki WebbingWw2 Helmet Named To Vet Normandy Used Fixed Bale Inland Liner Mccord Front SeamOriginal Size 68 German M40 Helmet With Rough Textured Finish "battle Damaged"Gentex Pilot Flight Helmet Mic Dynamic Microphone Nexus M-87 Mbu-12 Mask MilitarWwii Green German Helmet, Original Lining