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 Originally made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant, safari helmets were primarily used by European militaries on patrol in tropical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

Wwi German Bavarian M1915 Ersatz Pickelhaube Helmet-guaranteed Original-beautyJapanese Wwii Us Vet Bring Back Lot Army Helmet Navy Gas Mask Mess Kit Japan Ww2Original U.s. Early Wwii "hawley" General Fibre Co. M1 Helmet Liner (complete)German Ww2 M35 Helmet - Q64 - No ReserveWw1 Prussian German Ersatz Artillery Pickelhaube Spike HelmetGerman Paratrooper Ww 2 Fallschirmjager Steel HelmetWw2 German Helmet Alu Liner, Size 66/59, Dated 1940 - OriginalOriginal Ww2 German Helmet M42 Shell - Reused In Norway100% Original Ww2 M42 Qvl66 Normandy Swirl Camo German Helmet Shell With Pins Ww2 German Helmet Steel Liner, Size 64/56, Dated 1943 - OriginalItalian Fascist Mvsn Helmet M-33 Wwii Black Shirts Combat Units Italy Fascista Rare Ww1 Helmet And Uniform Grouping-named Corporal-u S 322 Rgt-81st DivisionOriginal Ww2 M35 German Helmet Shell, Size 66 Wwi German M16 Helmet StahlhelmRbr Tactical Devgru Ach Mich Mid Cut Kevlar Helmet Size Medium Wilcox Nvg Mount Original Ww2 German Helmet M40 Et66 - Reused In DenmarkDated 1916 Wwi German Metal Pickelhaube Prussian Austrian Military Spike HelmetWw2 M-1 Helmet W/ Original NetUs Army Usmc Marine Ww2 Khaki Hbt Webbed M-1 Helmet Liner + Nape Strap Vtg GiJet Pilot Helmet, Hgu-55/p Dual-visor, Size Large, U.s. Issue *nice*Wwii Named M-35 German Helmet (heer)Ww1 Prussian German Pickelhaube Spike Helmet Model 1895Ww2 German M38 Camo Paratrooper Helmet Made For Stand Lamp Ckl71 Bno:42??Ww2 German M38 Patartooper / Fallschirmjäger HelmetVintage Pre Wwi German / Barvarian Austrian Military Spike HelmetWw2 Ww1 German Helmet, Helmets, Hats, Caps, Original 1918Antique Rare Us Navy Diving Knife A. Schrader's Son Rare N Helmet Usn N DaggerWw2 German M40 Vehrmark Helmet Very Clean 100% Original Dd German Uniform Ww2 Very Early Feuershutz Uniform Complete With M40 Helmet Rare !German Ww1 Pickelhaube / Spiked HelmetWwii German Helmet, Heer (m-35)Original Wwii German Arny M-42 No Decal Combat Helmet W Liner, Size 66 Very NiceVintage Wwii German Military Helmet M35, M40, M42 Ww2 Original With LinerWwii Hawley Liner First Seargent Nco Stripe Leather Chinstrap Rare M1 HelmetWwii / Ww2 U.s. Army, M1 Helmet, Fixed Bales, M1 Liner, Vg-marked Ny Sgt HudsonWw 2 American Fixed Bales, Front Seam Helmet With Inland Liner (general Motors)Original Ww2 Canada Gsw 1940 Mk 1 Helmet Shell Regiment De La Chaudiere FlashWwi German Military Helmet With No LinerOriginal Ww2 German Axis Russian Tunic Y-straps, Ammo & Grenade P, Belt, HelmetOriginal Wwi U.s. M1917 Brodie Helmet Complete Liner & Chinstrap (world War 1)Gentex Flight Helmet Hgu-84/p Helicopter Jet Pilot Large Navy Marines ArmyOps Core Fast Base Jump Military Helmet M/l Tan Lbt Tad Arc'teryx Leaf Aor1 Aor2New Tan Medium Msa Tc 2000 Ach Mich Advanced Combat Kevlar Helmet Navy SealWw2 Us M1 Helmet Liner, Westinghouse - OriginalWorld War 2 Army HelmetWwi French Model 1915 Adrian Helmet W/ Rf Flaming Bomb Badge-originalOriginal German Ww 2 - M 40.camoflage Helmet - WehrmachtOps-core Advanced Combat Helmet Large Accessory Rail Connector Ach-arc Rails TanNamed Wwi Imperial German M16/m17 "stahlhelm" Helmet - Et64 With Liner BandWw2 German Helmet Mc Goggles - OriginalWw1 German Miniature Pickelhaube Helmet Watch Fob In Box - Silver? - Trench ArtWw1 German Stahlhelm HelmetM-i Helmet Usa Wwii Early Fixed Chinstrap Bales Us Army Ww2 Steel Pot Painted U.s. Wwii M 1 Helmet Camo Wire Battle Damage Bullet / Shrapnel Hole Usa Ww2 M1Ww2 German Helmet M35 Ns64 E138 Afrika Korps Lw Stahlhelm 2 Wk Rare !!!Wwii Usn Aviators M-450 Summer Flying Helmet With Telephonics Th-37 ReceiversOps-core Occ-dial Liner Urban Tan Sz Large Mich/ach Helmet Retention Head LocWw2 U.s. Front Seam Nco Helmet With Westinghouse LinerOrig French M15 Adrian Helmet Ww1 Casque Franzosischer Stahlhelm Casco Elmo XxRare, Wwii 11th Airborne Paratrooper Helmet Liner / Strength From Above