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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical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

Original 1939 Ww2 M35 German Combat Camouflage Steel HelmetWw2 German Army / Heer M42 Normandy Pattern Camo Helmet Hkp66 38*319c French Napoleonic Helmet Cuirass Armor Cuirassier Carabinier 1829Us M-1 Helmet Early Wwii Fixed Bales & Hawley Liner Silver Rayon Unit Painted Pickelhaube Imperial German Spike Helmet Model 1860 Parade Bush PrussianWwii Us M1 Helmet-fixed Bales Front Seam Firestone Liner Leadership StripesBavarian German M1895 Pickelhaube Spike Helmet Leather Officer Or NcoGreat Viet Nam Named Usmc Col. Ward Usn Aph-6 Flight Helmet W/markings & Oxy MaWwii German Army Brown Camo HelmetWwii -us Army- Vintage Gi Fixed Bale/front Seam M1 Helmet W/linerOriginal Early Wwii Westinghouse M1 Helmet Liner With White WebbingOriginal Ww2 German Paratrooper HelmetWw 2 M1 Helmet, Painted 34 Th Div "been Their"Ww Ii Us Hawley M-1 Fiber Helmet Liner - Great Imperial German Model 1916 Steel Helmet W/liner – Named To Jewish SoldierRare Original Wwii Helmet Steel Pots M1 Hawley Liner Type 2 Fs Fb Usmc UntouchedWw2 German Helmet M42 Et62. Camo Steel Helmet Normandy. 2 Wk. Wwii Us Navy Summer Flight Helmet W/ Early Style Goggles & Mannequin Head-scarceCamouflage Pilots Helmet, Aviation, Air Crew, Plane, HelicopterWorld War One Imperial German 1916 Helmet Stahlhelm. Original With Chinstrap1915 Dated And Unit Marked Prussian Picklehaube Spiked Helmet, Removable SpikeWwi Austrian Model 1916 Helmet-finn Use-w/ Liner & Chinstrap-scarce Original Us Wwii M1 Helmet Liner Chinstrap W/ Green Buckle & Hardware ExcellentFrench Dragoon Helmet - Wwi - Horsehair CrestOriginal U.s.n. Early-wwii Navy Painted Fixed Loop Mccord M1 Helmet ShellWw2 Helmet M38Wwi Us Ambualance Service, Third Army & Dual Red Cross Insignia Painted HelmetUs Army Wwii Hawley First Pattern Helmet Liner With Leather Chinstrap Wwi German Pickelhaube Helmet Bavarian -rare- M-1881 -indian Wars- Vintage Us Army Engineer's Spiked Uniform Hat/helmetWw2 German Normandy Camo Helmet. Size 64. Named. With Liner & Chinstrap. Ww2 German Helmet Dak Hat Cap Visor Wwii Usmc M1 Helmet With Camo Cover & International Molded Plastics Liner Ww2Original Ww1 German Steel Helmet Model M16 Size 64Ach Msa Mich Army Advanced Combat Helmet Ballistic Kevlar Sz Large MilitaryEarly Wwii Us Military M1 Fixed-bail Mccord Helmet With Od3 Chinstraps Ww1 Imperial German Prussian Leather Pickelhaube Spike Helmet Parts/repairWorld War 1military HelmetUs Army Model 1881 Cavalry Officer Dress Helmet-guaranteed OriginalOriginal Australian Ww2 Type B Flying Helmet Goggles Raaf Air Force EquipmentGerman Dd Luftwaffe Helmet Ww2 SicilyPainted Us Pilots Helmet / Aviation / Fighter / Jet Type P4aVgc Gentex Aerial Ach/mich Anvis Combat Bracket Rangers Hgu-56/p Flight HelmetGerman Wwi M16 Combat Steel HelmetVintage Navy Pilot Flight Helmet Gentex Post-vietnam Microphone Dual Visors Ww2 German HelmetWw2 Wwii U.s. Helmet,shell,army,gi,m1,military,original,rolled Edge,marine,warVietnam War Era Usaf Rare Jet Pilot Helmet High Altitude? Jad 10 Cal Mil PlasticVietnam War Gentex Sph-4 Pilot's Protective Helmet, Helmet Bag, And AccessoriesWwii German Camo Steel Army Helmet - ( Perhaps Wwi ) Painted CamouflageWorld War 2. Genuine German Helmet /not A Reproduction/Wwi 5th Marines Supply Company Insignia Painted Us M1917 Helmet W/ Liner - UsmcGerman Wwii Police Combat M40 Helmet Peltor Comtac Iii Advanced Combat Helmet Headset Ach Mt17h682fb-47 Cy CoyoteGerman Helmet M40 Wwii Wire Net Camouflage (normandy) Navy Gentex Aviator Flight HelmetOps Core Helmet Shim For Anvis-6 9 Nvg Mount Plate Crye Helmet Cag Devgru SealsWw2 Authentic Army Tanker Helmet With Goggles - Size 7 1/8Trench Art Brass Model Ww1 Divers Helmet 1917 Shell Case Royal Navy ButtonWw2 German M42 Camo Helmet