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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical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

Wwi Imperial German Model 1916 Helmet-camo PaintedGerman Wwii Paratrooper Helmet M38 Germany Ww2 Para Fj As Found Original WwiiWw2 German M40 Ss / Elite Three Tone Camo Helmet Made By: Ef64Rare Us Wwii Paratrooper Inland Jump Helmet Liner Usa AirborneWw2 German Luftwaffe Fallschirmjager Paratrooper M38 Helmet + Camo CoverWwii Us M1 Helmet-fixed Bales Front Seam-w/ Camo Net & Inland LinerWwi German Stirnpanzer Sniper Helmet Shield Original Camo Paint Leather StrapsOriginal German Wwii M35 Helmet Et62 3653 Signed Complete Liner Decal Rare M-35 Wwii Us War Correspondent Fixed Bale M1 Helmet - Great Piece!Original Wwi Austrian Model 1916 Helmet-very Good Condition-beautiful PaintVintage Vietnam War Australian Raaf Raf Air Plane Jet Pilot Flight HelmetSuperb Ww1 Original Trench Art Early German Picklehaube Helmet With CrestAntique German Ww I Saxon Cuirassier Officer's Parade Helmet (sword Dagger)German Wwi Combat Helmet M16 Germany Ww1 As Found Original Feldgrau Paint LinerWwi Czech Volunteer Legion Used French Model 1915 Adrian HelmetGerman Wwii Combat Helmet M35 Germany Ww2 As Found Original WwiiWw2 U.s. Air Crew Helmet With Instructions Looks To Be UnissuedOriginal Dated 1939 Ww2 British Observer Corp Helmet Plus Arm Band & JacketWw I German Full Camo Steel Helmet Liner Chinstrap No Spike Pickelhaube M 17Vtg Wwii/ww2 M-1 Helmet Liner Westinghouse - Us Miltary - Great Condition!U.s. M1 Army Helmet Circa Ww2 With Liner Black Front SeamAntique 16th-17th Century Style Parade Helmet Russian Or Spanish (sword Dagger)Antique Russian Imperial Pavlovsky Grenadier Miter Hat Helmet (sword Dagger)Ww2 German Paratrooper Fallschirmjager Helmet Fj Bullet HitRare Ww2 M1 Us Paratrooper's Uniform Steel Helmet D-day Arnhem Wwii Ww2 German Helmet M-40 Ns 64 Lot 0120 Bullet Hole/crack - Head Shot. RareAntique English Yomanry Regiment Officer's Parade Helmet (sword Dagger)Ww1 German Pickelhaube HelmetHgu-84/p Gentex Flight Helmet Usmc New Never Issued Size Large Usaf Navy Pilot Ww1 German M16 Transitional Helmet Shell, Size 66 - OriginalEarly Wwii Us Rare M-1 Hawley Helmet LinerVintage Pre Wwi German / Prussian Austrian Military Spike Helmet #m2Original Vietnam Era Paratrooper Airborne Helmet - 82nd Antique Rare French Napoleonic Hussar Officer's Shako Quiver Hat HelmetWwii German Military Helmet With Liner And Broken Chin Strap #m211Usmc Hbt Camo Cover Fs Fb Helmet And LinerWw2 Usmc Helmet Cover Frogskin Mint Condition 1st Type Reversible Green TanUsed Helicopter Hgu-55 Pilot Flight Helmet Size LargeAntique Rare French Napoleonic Or Later Bugler's Shako Quiver Hat HelmetAntique German Ww I Machine-gun Unit Shako Helmet With 1813 Cross OrderAntique English Uhlan Lancer's Helmet Hat 19th Century To Ww I (sword Dagger)Wwi / Wwii German Helmet With Leather Liner Authentic Original87th Division Grouping With Unit Marked Helmet Liner And Ike JacketGerman Steel Helmet Manufactured By Audi Ww2 Wwii M34 M35 M40 M42 AutounionOriginal Ww2 / Korean War? U.s. Gi Helmet With Original Liner & Chin StrapsWwii Russian Ssh36 Model 1936 Helmet-airborne Paratrooper Modified Cut DownRare Ww1 U S Infantry Helmet W/- 77th Div-statue Of Liberty Painted- Front-linerWw2 Us Helmet M-1 W/ Firestone Liner Wwii German Ssk 90 Protective Steel & Leather Helmet For Aircrew RareWw2 German M-40 Helmet Finish Volunteer's Multi Camo, Rare, OrigWorld War 1 Helmet, Red Insignia On The Front, Possibly The 27th Division. Original 82nd Airborne M.p. Helmet Liner - NamedOriginal Ww2 Us M-1944 M1 Helmet Net With Instructions TagAuthentic Helicopter Pilot HelmetItalian M15/16 Helmet W/orig Relic Liner-world War 1/wwi Lippmann 1916-rare FindGerman Wwi Helmet Camo Deutscher Stahlhelm M16 Mimikri Original.Ww1 German Steel Stahlhelm Pickelhaube HelmetWw2 German Combat Helmet Film Prop With Bearded Prop Head DisplayOriginal Usmc Wwii-vietnam Swivel Loop M1 Helmet, Liner, & Marine Camo CoverWw1 German M16 Helmet