The Pickelhaube

Did you know?

The distinctive spiked infantry helmet on display at Discovery Park is called the “Pickelhaube,” and the design is still in use today!

The word “pickelhaube” might sound confusing at first, bringing to mind food instead of pointed objects, but other English words like “peak,” “pick,” “spike,” “pickaxe,” or the “pike,” a historic polearm consisting of a wooden shaft up to 25 feet long topped with a steel spearhead, all refer to pointed things. In German, “pickel” has several translations, including “point,” “pick,” and “pickaxe,” and “haube” means “hood,” or “cap.”

The headgear is heavily associated with the military tradition of the Kingdom of Prussia, a nation of moderate size whose formidable army allowed it to become a great power in Europe and take the dominant position among the German states which joined together in 1871. When the German Empire was formed, their constitution codified that whoever was King of Prussia was also Emperor of Germany.

Though the pickelhaube’s point may have been useful in deflecting saber blows on the battlefields of the 1800’s, the helmet proved problematic in World War I, with the shiny spike protruding from trenches and drawing fire. Needing better-protecting and easier-to-produce headgear, and facing leather shortages, Germany replaced the pickelhaube.

Though the German Empire collapsed in 1918, other nations wished to emulate the Prussian army and its successes, so the pickelhaube is still traditionally worn, sometimes with elaborate horsehair ornamentation, by parading soldiers and honor guards even today.

In our Military Gallery, visitors can view an authentic pickelhaube made in 1915. It is standard-issue and was made from leather by “Rudolf Witmer & Co,” with a metal spike on top, and a metal plate in front displaying the crowned eagle found on the Prussian flag.

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