The World War I Mark I helmet, a design by Latvian-born British inventor John L. Brodie, was the standard steel helmet used by the British Empire troops in WW1, as well as the American and Portuguese forces. It protected soldiers’ heads from shrapnel bullets, shell fragments, and other flying debris on the battlefield. Brodie’s design using hardened manganese steel entered service in the fall of 1915. The initial design was criticized for being too shallow and too light-reflective, its rim was too sharp, and its lining was too slippery. An improved Mark I version entered service in May 1916 and was used by a number of armies up through the 1960s.
The United States initially purchased 400,000 British Mark I helmets, designated as the M1917, to equip the American Expeditionary Forces. The first US- made copies of the Mark I were supplied before the end of 1917. The M1917 differed little from the British original; different rivets were used to secure the liner, the wire loop onto which the chinstrap was fixed was thicker, and the rubber “doughnut” pad was not adopted.
Of course, these artifacts from the First World War also adorn the light fixtures in our main gallery. Despite this repurposing, World War I helmets were still issued to the 45th Infantry Division when they were federalized in September of1940. 45th Division News photographer A.Y. Owen took this photograph of Bill Mauldin wearing his WW I helmet at Camp Barkeley in 1941.
Although the WW I helmets were still being worn by some troops as late as the attack on Pearl Harbor and early fighting in the Philippine Islands, it was eventually replaced by the M1 helmet.