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Hard Hats

By: Steven Heller | December 23, 2009

Helmets are almost as old as heads and as hard as heads too. They are also as fascinating as they are menacing.

The Assyrians and Persians had helmets of leather and iron, and the Greeks made theirs from bronze. The Romans developed the round legionary’s helmet and the special gladiator’s helmet, with broad brim and pierced visor. Protection was the first goal, but the design was supposed to instill fear.

The earliest helmets were made of leather reinforced with bronze or iron, eventually entire helmets were just iron. But where did the word “helmet” come from. In 1200 the helm, or heaume, emerged. According to Armadillo Armory, “It was a flat-topped cylinder that was put on over the skullcap just before an engagement; experience soon dictated rounded contours that would cause blows to glance off.” This version developed into what was called “the basinet,” with added protection for the neck and with a movable visor for the face. By 1500 helmets employing hinges or pivots to permit the piece to be put on over the head.

Steel helmets were used as a standard item for infantry in the World War I because it protected the head against exploding artillery shells. The French first adopted the helmet as standard equipment in late 1914 and were quickly followed by the British, the Germans, and then the rest of Europe. The rest is history.