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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical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

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

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 Luftwaffe Paratrooper / FallschirmjRare German Wwii Battle Damage Camo Tropical Sud Front Combat Helmet CamouflageUs Wwii M-1 Early 26b Stamp Helmet With Super Rare Westighouse Camouflage LinerWwii Japanese Rare Model 90 Naval Landing Forces Helmet Anchor Stamping On LinerWwii Us M1 Helmet ~ Fixed Bale ~ Westinghouse Liner ~ Clean Estate ItemOriginal Wwii German North Africa Afrika Corps Pith Helmet W PinGerman Steel Helmet Made By Quist Ww2 Wwii M34 M35 M40 M42 Red Cross MedicOriginal Early Wwii Fixed Bale M1 Helmet Shell With ChinstrapsFixed Bale M-1 Helmet With Hawley LinerWwii British Mk I 1943 Armored Corps Steel Helmet-original-completeAlpha Mk10 Raf Pilots Flight HelmetWwii U.s. Army, M1 Fixed Bale Helmet W/ Matching Hawley Liner, Named To SoldierWw2 M40 German Helmet Et62 Nice ConditionWorld War I German Prussian Pickelhaube Spiked Military Army Helmet WwiOriginal Wwii M1 Fixed Bale Helmet Westinghouse Liner 5th Infantry DivisionEarly Ww2 Fixed Loop Combat Helmet - Lot Number 185c - May 1942 W/original NetNamed Perfect German Austrian Ww1 Helmet Casque Autriche Kuk Stahlhelm Casco ElmU.s. Military Pasgt Kevlar Ballistic Combat Helmet Size Med Army Marines Usmc Wwi German Saxon M95 Spike Helmet -182nd Rgt. MarkedUs Air Force Combat Edge Hgu 55 Helmet And Mbu-20 With Custom Visor CoverWw2 British Home Guard / Civil Defence 1940 Steel Helmet, Liner & ChinstrapOps-core Fast Ballistic Helmet (coyote), Size M/l With Surefire Light And MountOriginal Ww L Prussian German Enlisted Man's Picklehaube Spiked HelmetGerman Ww1 M1915 Pickelhaube Spiked HelmetOriginal Wwi German 1914 Dated Pickelhaube Spike Helmet 5 1/2 (t)Wwii German Pickelhaube Imperial Baden Army Infantry Helmet OfficerOriginal M1 Helmet Wwii American Red CrossWw2 German Paratrooper Fallschirmjager Helmet Et71 With Battle DamageGerman Ww1 Helmet Ear Cut Out Casque Allemand Stahlhelm Casco Elmo 1gm ArrasWwi German Prussian Army Infantry Unit Officers Spiked Helmet PickelhaubeGunfighter Sohah Kevlar Helmet With Ops Core Vas ( Key: Special Forces Seal Pj )Original World War Ii Japanese HelmetWwii Original Us Marine Corp Cloth Flight Helmet And Goggles.Original German Wwii M40 Helmet Size 64 Battlefield Relic Cleaned Wwii Us M1 Steel Combat Helmet With LinerReal & Original German World War Two Camouflaged Helmet Italian Vet Bring Back Fantastic Ww 1 Painted Camo Helmet, 77th Inf. Div. 302nd Trench Mortar BatteryWw2 Us Army Westinghouse M1 Helmet Liner With Chin Strap - No ReserveUsa Us Military Combat Helmet Ww Ii Ww 2 Original Paint Militaria Army Gear HatWw1 Estate Find German Military M16 Helmet-carl Menzel LinerRare Wwi German Prussian Pickelhaube Felt Spiked Helmet W/ LinerWwii Japanese Army Steel Helmet (2) There Is A NameWwii Japanese Civil Defense Helmet Original Japan Ww2 8set 8pc RareWw2 M40 German HelmetEarly Wwii Us Army Fixed Bale Helmet Green Buckle Chinstrap Green RivetHgu-56/p Flight Helmet & Visor. P14Rare- Wwii -us Navy- Vintage Mark V Deep-sea Diving Suit W/o HelmetOriginal German Dd Vw --volkswagen-- Gladiator HelmetGentex Hgu-84/p Pilot Aviator Flight Helmet Xl WideWwi German Cavalry Jager Zu Pferde Em Lobstertail Spiked Helmet Pickelhaube 1915Original Ww1 German/prussian Picklehaube Hard Leather Spike HelmetWwi German Saxon M1915 Spike Helmet -177th Rgt. MarkedUsaf/afsoc/gentex/scott/avox Hgu-55/p Helmet With Mbu-12/p Mask And ExtrasWw1 Estate Find German Military Original M16 HelmetUs Army Ww2 Wwii M1 Helmet World War Ii German Military Army Helmet WwiiOriginal & Authentic Wwi French Field Blue M1915 Adrian Helmet W/liner Rf PlateWw2 German Black Air Defence Helmet / Volkssturm ,rareWwii Dispatch Rider Helmet (motorcycle Helmet) Original Ww1 German Camo Helmet-battle Damage-army / Military