Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

Image of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. are pictured here in 1943 wearing the standard M1 helmet, sometimes called the "steel pot." (Photo: 1st Infantry Division Courtesy Photo). Lt. Gen. George S. Patton and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. are pictured here in 1943 wearing the standard M1 helmet, sometimes called the "steel pot." (Photo: 1st Infantry Division Courtesy Photo)

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Our History | Injury Prevention

As a critical piece of a warfighter's protective gear, the combat helmet has vastly improved over the years as new technology and better designs have reduced the risk of fatal blows and traumatic brain injuries.

The earliest combat helmets were made from bronze and used to protect soldiers from swords and arrows. They were heavy, crudely designed and did not fit well.

During World War I and World War II, standard helmets were made from thin steel. They provided protection mainly against shrapnel rather than shock waves. They were lighter and provided better protection than helmets from previous eras.

But at that time, soldiers were often reluctant to use their chin strap because they believed that "it was better for [the helmet] to be knocked off rather than injure the soldier's neck," said Alan Hawk, a collections manager for the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a branch of the Research Support Division in the Research & Engineering Directorate of the Defense Health Agency.

Technology and safety protocols have evolved in recent years, resulting in helmets that provide more protection from both projectiles and shock waves.

Modern combat helmets, like the one worn by this Marine, offer protection from both projectiles and blast waves. They are also designed to incorporate the use of communications equipment and other devices that can improve warfighter performance and capability. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado, U.S. Marine Corps)
Modern combat helmets, like the one worn by this Marine, offer protection from both projectiles and blast waves. They are also designed to incorporate the use of communications equipment and other devices that can improve warfighter performance and capability. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado, U.S. Marine Corps)

Modern Helmets

Modern helmets became lighter as steel was replaced with composite materials like Kevlar. They now have padding and fitted chinstraps, allowing the helmet to stay attached during a blast. Inside, they include an energy-absorbing liner. Modern helmets are designed and tested to meet consistent standards to protect soldiers from concussions and other injuries.

Visibility is also now a key factor to helmet design.

"The best helmet in the world is not effective if a soldier walks into an ambush due to hampered vision," Hawk said.

In recent years, U.S. Special Operations Command helped develop a new helmet designed to integrate modern communications devices. The Army adopted a version of that helmet in 2002 and named it the Advanced Combat Helmet.

Modern helmets are also customized for specific jobs beyond the traditional infantry. Aircrew helmets protect from impact and noise. Helicopter aircrew have helmets that help protect against ricochets from the ground. Both helmets typically have built-in communications headsets and visors as well.

Modern helmet designers optimize protection using test standards and methods measuring the probability of neck injuries, concussions, and other injuries for specific conditions like ejection, said Benjamin Steinhauer, an engineer for the Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing.

The Future of Helmets

New helmets focus on suspension technology, which uses shock absorbing webbing, and lightweight and crack resistant materials.

While experts agree there will never be a perfect helmet, the military continues to make significant gains in protecting service members from TBI and other injuries.

"We do find ways to make helmets lighter without sacrificing the mission," Steinhauer said.

You also may be interested in...

Military Medical Museum Celebrates 160th birthday with mobile app

Photo
5/17/2022
Military Medical Museum Celebrates 160th birthday with mobile app

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Maryland, visitor uses the NMHM mobile app while looking at objects from the Innovations in Military Medicine Gallery.

Recommended Content:

Our History

Exiting an A-10C Thunderbolt

Photo
9/30/2016
Exiting an A-10C Thunderbolt

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Judith Bulkley, an electrical and environmental systems specialist deployed from the 23rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., exits an A-10C Thunderbolt II after performing an external power operations check on the aircraft at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Because service members in particular are often exposed to high noise levels, hearing protection is crucial, especially with a TBI. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephen Schester)

Recommended Content:

Hearing and Balance Injuries | Traumatic Brain Injury

The impact of traumatic brain injuries on community life

Photo
9/27/2016
The impact of traumatic brain injuries on community life

A soldier at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s traumatic brain injury clinic in Alaska takes a cognitive hand-eye coordination test on a driving stimulator.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury

Public Health Service Cmdr. Robin Toblin speaks at TBI Summit

Photo
9/21/2016
Public Health Service Cmdr. Robin Toblin speaks at TBI Summit

Public Health Service Cmdr. Robin Toblin with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research was one of the more than 1,700 health care providers and policy makers from the Military Health System, the Department of Veterans Affairs, academia and commercial research companies who met in person and virtually during the recent Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Summit held at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. (DCoE photo by Terry Welch)

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury
Showing results 1 - 4 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 15, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.