While many people wouldn’t immediately think of metal as a primary helmet material, few other materials have been so extensively employed in helmets. Early metal helmets were designed for military use. Bronze helmets dating back to the fourth millennia BC have been unearthed in archeological digs. Ultimately, bronze, brass, iron and steel would all be employed to help soldiers deflect rocks, swords, hatchets, arrows and musket balls.
Naturally, there are downsides to wearing a metal bowl on your head. Poor ventilation, and excess weight are all disadvantages of the material. Compared to modern materials, metal’s ability to attenuate impacts is also lacking. By the 1700’s metal helmets had fallen out of favor as high-powered rounds from rifles could easily penetrate steel helmets.
Metal helmets, however, made a return with the outbreak of World War I. Though still ineffective at shielding their owners from rifle shots, steel helmets were then useful in protecting fighters from a new threat—artillery shrapnel and falling objects. While most armed forces no longer use metal-shelled helmets, it was only relatively recently that metal helmets were replaced with non-metal, composite models. The steel M1 helmet, for example, was worn by members of America’s armed forces until 1985.
These days, metal is rarely used in helmet shells and is largely relegated to the buckles and snaps that help secure some helmet straps.