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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical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

German Helmet Ww2 Original Rare Us M1 Helmet Early Fixed Bale & Inland Snap On Rayon Band Liner Usa Ww2 !German Wwi M-16 Helmet Geometric Camouflage Germany Camo Ww1 Stahlhelm Shell 64Wwi Us M1917 Helmet W/ Usmc Ega Insignia-guaranteed OriginalWw2 M40 German Helmet (original)Antique Napoleonic French Guard Officers Shako- C1830 Empire Hat Helmet Regency100% Original Japanese Navel Landing Combat Helmet With LinerOriginal Ww2 Us M1c Paratrooper Airborne Helmet With Westinghouse Liner M1German Helmet Ns M42 With Liner, Size 66 €Original Wwii U.s. Front Seam M1 Helmet Shell With ChinstrapsWwi German Helmet Shell Nicely Marked Size 64 Complete With Rivets.Original German Parade Helmet; Wwi Or Earlier; WurttembergArmorsource Mich Ballistic Helmet High-cut Medium (m) 2001 Style 3-hole WarcomWwii 104th Timberwolf Division Helmet Liner W/ Decal - Complete Original PaintUs Army Ww2 87th Infantry Division "golden Acorn" Painted M-1 Helmet Liner VtgM1 Helmet Wwii First Aid Kit Paratrooper Airborne NormandyWwi Italian M.1915-16 Adrian Helmet-beautiful-original-complete-great LinerWwii M1 Us Combat Helmet & Liner Front Seam Fixed Bale Army MarineMsa Ach Mich Helmet With Revision Batlskin Large Ops Core Team Wendy Epic Tc2000Ww1 British / Australian Brodie Pattern Steel Helmet Mk.i (anzac - Aif) €19th Century Napoleonic Cuirassier Helmet Imperial French Antique Cavalry ArmourGunfighter Sohah Kevlar Helmet With Ops Core Vas ( Key: Special Forces Seal Pj )Wwi German Helmet With E T 66 Inside Origional Old Finish100% Original Wwii German M40 Helmet Textured Size 68 X-largeWw2 Us Army M1 Airborne Paratrooper Helmet Liner Original????German M-16 Wwi Fall Camouflage HelmetUnissued Wwii Helmet & Liner Amazing Extremely Rare Do Not Miss!! M-1915 Wwi Prussian Infantry Spiked Helmet Pickelhaube Parts Or Restoration Original Ww1 German Camouflage Helmet Gunfighter Sohah Kevlar Helmet With Ops Core Vas ( Key: Special Forces Seal Pj )Ww1 Imperial German M18 Helmet Shell. OriginalWw 2 Us Air Force Helmet - Paratrooper Helmet And LinerOriginal Early Wwii Transitional Inland M1 Helmet LinerSeamless Ballistic Ceradyne Kevlar Helmet Iiia? Devgru? Ops Core? Fast? MaritimeNavy Seal Issued Ops-core Fast Base Jump Size M/l Bump Helmet Tan LbtVintage Usaf Gentex Pilot HelmetWwii Us M1-c Airborne Paratrooper Helmet Vgc+++New Gentex Advance Tactical Kevlar Helmet Combat Grey Size MediumWw1 German Pickelhaube Helmet (origional)Vintage Flight Pilot Jet Helmet Aph 6 Dual Visor Hgu Us Navy Gear Usn Vietnam Vintage Gentex Us Navy Flight Pilot Helmet Aph-6a Sierra Electro Voice CommNorotos Nvg Vas Night Vision Helmet Mount Mich Ach Ops Core Seal Lbt Devgru NrUs Wwii M-1 Combat Helmet Untouched Never Cleaned Or Restored Late War 1944 Ww2Firestone Army Gi M1 Helmet Liner Wwii Vintage OriginalWw2 German M40 Helmet - Estate Find - Very Nice Condition M-1915 French Adrian Helmet With Wwi Veteran's 1914-1918 Visor PlateWilcox L2 G05 3 Hole Nvg Helmet Mount + Arm Complete L2g05 Socom Ww2 Aaf Type B-6 Pilot's Flight Helmet - Size Extra LargeWw 2 Us Air Force Pilot Helmet - Hat Type B-6 Air Force Us ArmyOriginal U.s. Wwii M1 Helmet Liner Headband Sweatband (green Steel Hardware) Wwii Us M1 Helmet Fixed Bale Mccord - 1943 - Very Good Condition++Wwii German M42 "raw Edge" Helmet Complete W/ Liner & Chin StrapOrg Us Vet Bring Back Japanese Nlf Helmet Anchor Army Navy Landing Force Jeep Hgu-55/p Flight Helmet And A Mbu 12 Flight Mask System - In Great Condition!!!Ww1 Doughboy Grouping 1st Army Engineer Helmet Cartridge Belt Uniform Tunic UsVintage Ww2 German Helmet With Original Chin StrapWwii German M40 Helmet Complete W/ Liner & Chin StrapAll Authentic Wwi Us Army Collection! Tunic, Gas Mask, Helmet, Photos! See Pics!German Ww1 Helmet Casque Allemand Stahlhelm Casco Elmo Ypres 1gm Arras IsonzoAnvis 9 Nvg Night Vision Helmet Mount With Wilcox Mounting Bracket