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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical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

Most watched eBay auctions    

Wwii Usgi Rare Inland Paratrooper M1c M1 Helmet Liner Real Not RepoWwii Us Model 1917a1 Helmet W/ Usmc Ega Insignia-w/ Liner & ChinstrapWwi Imperial German Enlisted Mens Spiked Helmet Pickelhaube HelmWwii Japanese Army Tropical Sun Pith Helmet-original-w/ Star & Kanji-great Cond Ww1 Italian Army Helmet. 100% Original. Wwi Imperial German Officers Spiked Helmet Pickelhaube Helm W/chinstrap CompleteVintage Gentex Sph-4 Hgu Mbu Pilot Aviation Helicopter Helmet Size Xl Wwi Imperial German Officers Garde Spiked Helmet Pickelhaube Helm W/ ChinstrapWw2 German Helmet M35 Shell, Q64 - OriginalGerman HelmetWw1 Prussian Army German Leather Pickelhaube Combat Spike Helmet Wwii Us M1 Front Seam Swivel Bale / Loop Helmet W/ Complete Westinghouse LinerWwii German Dak Afrika Korps M35 Desert Camouflaged Tropical Helmet Elite RareExcellent!! Japanese Wwii Japanese Army 90 System Soldier's Helmet 1938 #a4270Wwii U.s. M-1 Marine Corp Helmet Ww2 German Relic Helmet Badge Linea Gotica Tuscany Ask More Pict!!!!Wwii Helmet With Liner Hat Helmet Original Old World War 2 TwoWw2 1st Pat. Usmc Frogskin Camouflage Helmet Cloth Camo Cover No Slits Clean!!!Vintage Vietnam Era Army Navy Gentex Flight Pilot Helicopter Helmet Hgu Sph MbuGerman Wwii Fj M38 Paratrooper Helmet Ckl 68 Ww2 German Relic Helmet Two Decal One 65% One 85 % Linea Gotica Tuscany Us Wwii M1 Helmet Liner Inland - Firestone With Insignia & White Band U.s. Army Ww2 Us M-1 Helmet M-1944 Camouflage Net W/ Qm Label & Ww2 Burlap Scrim UnusedUs Ww2 Helmet M1 HelmetWw1 1915 Imperial German Army Officer's Pickelhaube Helmet, Liner & Chin Strap Ww2 Original German Helmet M35 64 Winter KamoKorean War Viet Nam Pilots Flight Helmet W Carrying BagWwii German Army Military Helmet Et64 Ww2Ww1 Us Army 36th Infantry Division M1917 Helmet And Liner, NamedVintage Named Us Navy Pilot Flight Helmet Aph-6cl Size Large & Carry Bag VietnamWw2 Us M1 Helmet Front Seam Westinghouse Liner M1 Usgi Army Marines M-1 WwiiWw2 Us Army Air Corps M4a2 Flyers Flak Helmet Aac Wwii UsgiWw2 Las Vegas Gunnery School Helmet LinerWwii Italian Fascist Pith Helmet Bersaglieri Afirica Sun Helmet Colonial Ww2Flight Helmet PartsFine Rare Type Of 19th C. Chinese Qing Pirates Dagger Dirk Short Sword No HelmetWwi French M.1915 Adrian Helmet-original-early One Piece Liner-nice PaintGerman Ww2 HelmetOriginal Ww2 U.s. Combat Worn Front Seam Fixed Bale Helmet Westinghouse LinerAntique Morion Helmet With Cheek Guards.#us M1 Helmet Liner Black Buckle Dot Maker Stamp Chinstrap U.s. Leather Strap UsWw1 Original German Helmet M16 Steel PotOriginal Ww2 German M-40 With Rare Camo Patern Helmet With Cross WireWorld War 1 German Combat HelmetWwii French Model 1926 Adrian Helmet W/ Liner & ChinstrapWwii Us Army Steel Pot Helmet Fixed Bale Liner Chinstrap Heat Stamp 73cGerman Relic Helmet With Lot Of PaintUn-touched 100% Original Wh M42 Helmet, Size 66/59Antique Shako Hat Helmet Uniform Napoleon Crimea French Prussian Hussar No SwordGerman World War 2 Dress HelmetWw 2 Us Captains Helmet With Welded Bars Vey NiceWw1 German HelmetVintage Ww2 German Army M42 Army HelmetW.w. 2 German Para HelmetWw2 Japanese Army Air Force Flight Helmet Leather Fur Lined WwiiWwi Imperial German Officers Spiked Helmet Pickelhaube Helm Storage CaseWwi Imperial German Bismark Spiked Helmet Oak Leaf Klaas Folding Pocket KnifeVintage Wwi Ww1 Doughboy Helmet Army Sand Finish Usw Liner Chin Strap Military Vn-war (1963) Us Aph-5 Helicopter Pilot Helmet, Sz "large," With Early Carry BagWwi Us 30th "old Hickory" Division Insignia Painted & Personalized M1917 Helmet