American fiber helmet

The American fiber helmet (also known as the American pith helmet, safari helmet, tropical helmet, sun helmet, elephant helmet, or the pressed fiber helmet) is a type of sun helmet made of pressed fiber material that has been used as part of the military uniform by various parts of the United States Armed Forces, from 1934 to present.[2][3][4][5][6] As of 2017, the helmet continues to be worn by US military rifle range cadres, as an icon for marksmanship excellence.[6][7][8][9] The helmet is technically not a pith helmet, insofar as it is not constructed from pith material.[10] However, in the more generic sense of design style, this type of sun helmet is modeled similarly to one and thus often referred to in common use as a pith helmet.[10] Additionally, the helmet is not a combat helmet, insofar as it was not originally designed to protect the head during combat. However, the helmet was nonetheless assigned, at various times in the 1930s and 1940s, as combat gear for use in active theaters.[11][12]

American fiber sun helmet
Cpl. Josh Farrell (2009), a combat marksmanship coach, wearing the fiber helmet (nicknamed the "elephant hat" in the Marines), in the Carlos Hathcock Range Complex at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
TypeMilitary and civilian helmet
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service1934-present
Used byUnited States Armed Forces
WarsSecond Sino-Japanese War, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Invasion of Grenada, Persian Gulf War
Production history
DesignerJesse Hawley
ManufacturerHawley Products Company
International Hat Company
Unit cost$1.36 (1941)[1]

The fiber helmet has been used as a commercial hat for civilians, as well as by the military. At various times, the helmet has been used by all branches of the services, including the military police, marine aviators, officer and enlisted ranks, military parades, graduation ceremonies, and combat training. The helmet has most actively been used by the United States Marine Corps, particularly during marksmanship course training.[2] During World War II, it was issued to all ranks of the Marine service.[13] As of 2017, it is the longest used helmet in US military history, having been worn by soldiers in the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, invasion of Grenada, and the Persian Gulf War.[2][3][14]

Despite its longevity of service, the fiber helmet was never given a model name.[13] It is officially known as "helmet, sun, rigid, fiber." The helmet was originally designed by Jesse Hawley.[15] It was first manufactured by Hawley Products Company in St. Charles, Illinois, and the International Hat Company in St. Louis, for several decades in the 20th century. In the 1960s, a modified version of the helmet was constructed of plastic molding material, as opposed to the original fibrous construction. However, the design remained consistent otherwise.


The fiber helmet was originally designed by Jesse Hawley in the early 1930s.[15] Hawley subsequently designed the first fiber helmet liner for the original M1 steel helmet, alongside the General Fibre Company, a subsidiary of the International Hat Company.[16] The first patent for the Hawley pressed fiber sun helmet was petitioned to the US government in 1935 and subsequently granted in 1938.[15][17]

The International Hat Company was the first manufacturer of the World War II model of fiber helmets for the US Army, beginning in June 1940 to 1946.[18] The US Army began ordering the World War II model of fiber helmets from Hawley Products in January 1941 to June 1942.[19] During their respective production times, Hawley Products created 27,751 fiber helmets for the Army, whereas International Hat generated 27,434.[18][19] The helmet eventually replaced the traditional but more expensive felt campaign hat.

In 1941, the US Marines ordered 44,000 waterproof, khaki fiber helmets to be made of 124 warp and 54 filling of threads per inch, with a maximum weight per square yard of 6 ounces.[1] The helmet was first issued to the First Marine Division during their 1941 deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba[20] International Hat produced 20,000 Marine fiber helmets for $1.35 each, while Hawley Products produced 24,000 Marine fiber helmets at a cost of $1.36 each.[1] In December 1942, the Marine quartermaster ordered an additional 100,000 fiber helmets. This included 50,000 to the Depot Quartermaster of San Francisco, 25,000 to the Clothing Officer of San Diego, and 25,000 to the Depot Quartermaster of Philadelphia.[1]


The American pressed fiber sun helmet is known for the simplicity of its design, allowing for easy mass production.[13] An important feature in the original conception of the helmet was to be shaped and contoured from one singular piece. This greatly assisted in making the helmet waterproof. The fiber material kept the helmet light and the soldier unencumbered by headgear. The major drawback in the design was heat. Despite being designed with a series of ventilation holes, the interior of the helmet would eventually become hot in the sun. The chin straps for the World War II model were made by General Fibre Company and Hawley Products Company, the same fiber liner used in the original M1 helmets.[3] The design of the International Hat and Hawley Product versions of the helmet are almost identical. However, the defining difference in identification is that the Hawley Product model has four folds with a wider space between them in the faux puggaree.[21] A puggaree is a type of Indian turban, namely a thin muslin scarf tied around a sun helmet.[22] The International Hat has five thin folds in its faux puggaree.[21]

Military helmet historian Peter Suciu describes the fiber helmet design as taking:

the basic shape of a safari helmet, complete with a faux ventilator at the top and a faux wrapping of puggaree around the dome of the helmet–the latter ironic because previous American sun helmets never used a puggaree. For ventilation, there were a number of vent holes with grommets on each side. The early helmets had three lower vent holes with two vents above, while the post-wartime examples feature four lower ventilation holes.[3]

The original fiber helmets in the 1940s were khaki colored. However, a dark green version of the helmet was produced during the Vietnam War.[23] A white helmet was used by the Military Police Corps in tropical regions. This model of fiber helmets was originally used by the US Navy.[3] These later versions of the helmet had an elasticized chinstrap that was detachable from the helmet.[3] In the case of the original model, the strap was permanently attached to the liner.[3]

See also


  1. Suciu, Peter. "The American Pressed Fiber Helmets Blueprints". Military Sun Helmets. Military Helmet Experts. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  2. Suciu, Peter. "USMC Pressed Fiber Helmet – Training Helmet and More". Military Sun Helmets. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  3. Suciu and Bates 2009, p. 58.
  4. Suciu, Peter. "Vented International Hat Company Helmet". Military Sun Helmets. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  5. Suciu, Peter. "Evolution of the American Pressed Fiber Helmet". Military Sun Helmets. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  6. Marian, Brian. "3rd Marine Aircraft Wing". United States Marines. US Government. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  7. Crutcher, Jerico (April 22, 2015). "Marine Photo 150416-M-YZ063-016". United States Marines. US Government. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  8. Hancock, Connor (April 14, 2016). "Marine Corps Photo 160413-M-GB581-006". United States Marines. US Government. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  9. Wharton, Abigail M. (9 September 2010). "Marine Corps Installations Pacific". United States Marine Corps. United States Government. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  10. Suciu, Peter. "Pith vs. Cork – Not One and the Same". Military Sun Helmets. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  11. Suciu, Peter (October 2014). "Vented International Hat Helmet". Military Sun Helmets. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  12. Tulkoff 2003, p. 268.
  13. Suciu and Bates 2009, p. 56.
  14. "Stock Footage: 4th Marine Regiment in Shanghai in 1934". YouTube. Critical Past. 14 November 1934. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  15. Suciu, Peter. "The Hawley Pressed Fiber Sun Helmet Patented". Military Sun Helmets. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  16. Shaw, Henry (1991). Opening Moves: Marines Gear Up for War. Darby, PA: Diane Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 9780788135279. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  17. Hawley, Jesse Barnum (15 March 1938). "US Patent 2111212 A: Hawley Products Company Hat". Google Patents. United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  18. Lemons, Charles R. (2011). Uniforms of the US Army Ground Forces (1939–1945), Addendum. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press. p. 212. ISBN 1105268926. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  19. Lemons, Charles R. (2011). Uniforms of the US Army Ground Forces (1939–1945), Addendum. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press. p. 195. ISBN 1105268926. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  20. p. 18 Rill, James C. A Narrative History of the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines During the Early History and Deployment of the 1st Marine Division, 1940-43 Merriam Press, 2003
  21. Suciu and Bates 2009, p. 59.
  22. "Puggaree". Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  23. Stuart and Bates 2009, p. 58.


  • Lemons, Charles R. (2011). Uniforms of the US Army Ground Forces (1939–1945), Addendum. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press. ISBN 1105268926.
  • Suciu, Peter; Bates, Stuart (2009). Military Sun Helmets of the World (1st ed.). Uckfield, UK: Naval and Military Press. ISBN 9781894581523.
  • Tulkoff, Alec (2003). Grunt Gear: USMC Combat Infantry Equipment of World War II. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0912138920.

Further reading

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