The Origin of the Pressed Fiber Helmet – In Perspective

SalesmanSample6Recently a potential one-of-a-kind item surfaced on eBay. It was a “salesman sample” of the American pressed fiber helmet. What made this particular find so interesting is that it was truly a salesman’s sample in that it wasn’t full size. So why exactly was a one-quarter scale helmet created?

The American pressed fiber sun helmet was used in the military during World War II as a training helmet by the USMC, but also was used in tropical locations throughout and after the war. In fact, as previously noted by this author, it was the longest utilized piece of headgear in the American military.

What is also known about this helmet is that its origins were not military. In fact it was a commercially available piece of headgear designed for civilian use. What isn’t understood is who this headgear was intended for, because its origins date back to the mid-1930s when the United States – along with much of the world – was gripped in the Great Depression. It wasn’t exactly a time when Americans were taking holidays to the tropics.

However it is believed that the helmet was designed for the world traveler, but also was intended for use by anyone who worked in the hot sun – from farms to road construction to other manual labor. At the time safety wasn’t quite the concern it is today, and the heat from the summer sun was probably as much a concern as the need for protective headgear.

SalesmanSample2

This salesman sample still has the tag with price – but it is hard to believe this helmet would have been so much money in the 1930s. Perhaps the price was for a lot of helmets? (Collection of the Author)

SalesmanSample3

The interior of the helmet. This may suggest that some civilian models of the helmet originally had a waterproof foil interior (Collection of the Author)

SalesmanSample4

While the tag says “Union Made” it isn’t clear which company actually produced this helmet. (Collection of the Author)

With the outbreak of the war in 1941 equipment was needed and this helmet pattern was “pressed” into service as a training helmet and produced by both Hawley Products and the International Hat Company. More than 250,000 helmets were produced by war’s end. The helmet was exported to Canada, and eventually adopted by the Canadians as a training helmet and produced by Hawley Products Canada

The helmet pattern subsequently saw use by the United States Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy throughout the Cold War. The helmets were supplied to various American allies in Latin and South America. It also was adopted by police forces and of course the United States Postal Service.

However, it never did seem to catch on as a civilian product, which probably explains why the example above is perhaps the only known “salesman sample” of this most iconic helmet.

SalesmanSample5

The salesman sample alongside a pre-war Hawley Products pressed fiber sun helmet (Collection of the Author)

Peter Suciu

November 2014

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Origin of the Pressed Fiber Helmet – In Perspective

  1. jody kaye ann siftsoff

    hi..i have a pressed fiber helmet and i want to know it’s value i hope you can help me i also want to know the hi story behind it on the insade it’s the brand THE COMFORTEASE london made in engalanad royal letters patent adopted by H.M.Goverment n.228467 i hope u can help

    Reply
  2. Kenny Suit

    We should remember that there are many examples of these helmets with seed company logos, farm equipment logos, and so on, which proves that these helmets were certainly intended for purchase by farmers or as advertising giveaways by agricultural companies. These examples show up on eBay very regularly. What’s less clear is when these farmer’s pith helmets were made — before or after WW2.

    Reply
  3. warren seiderman

    I got mine on Diego Garcia in 83 USN.Ive worn it occasionaly over the past 35 years but today I discovered a stamping inside that reads Hawley products Decenber 31 1948 cont,no qm 11555

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.