Bicentennial News features reports about the American Revolution Bicentennial in Pennsylvania, including programs, events and publications of PHMC, as well as projects and activities of the Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania, county historical societies and other institutions.
Charles W. Lenker’s M1917 combat helmet, hand-painted with locations in France where he and his unit served during World War I.

Charles W. Lenker’s M1917 combat helmet, hand-painted with locations in France where he and his unit served during World War I.
Pennsylvania Military Museum/Photo by Kyle R. Weaver

Charles W. Lenker (1896–1973) of Palmyra, Lebanon County, entered the Army from Lebanon on April 2, 1918, and wore this M1917 steel combat helmet during his service in World War I (also see inside front cover). It is preserved today not only as a relic of the war but also as a fine example of early helmet folk art with its painted record of a soldier’s military service.

The steel combat helmet was an innovation of the war. Previous headgear for soldiers had been constructed of cloth or leather, but the intensified hazards of modern weaponry and trench warfare demanded a stronger form of protection for the head. The French devised a makeshift helmet of a metal bowl under cloth that was later improved and replaced in 1915 by the Adrian helmet, designed by Auguste-Louis Adrian. The British War Office favored a design known as the Brodie helmet, patented in London by John Leopold Brodie in August 1915, that was soon improved as the Mk. I in 1916. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) were first issued British Mk. I or French Adrian helmets.

By the time Lenker was inducted, the U.S. had commenced production of the M1917 helmet, based on the British Mk. I model. Known as the “doughboy helmet,” it was distributed to U.S. soldiers overseas. Seven U.S. manufacturers, including the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Co. of Philadelphia, pressed the steel into a bowl shape for the helmets, which were then sent to the Ford Motor Co.’s Philadelphia plant where they were painted and assembled with linings. Like many manufacturers, Budd and Ford had modified their production to assist in the war effort.

Lenker served as a private in Battery C of the 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Division, from June 15, 1918, to May 28, 1919. He fought valiantly with his unit at Saint-Mihiel (September 12–15) and in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26–November 11). After the war, while Lenker was returning home by ship, he met a fellow traveler on board who painted emblems of his wartime experience on his helmet for him. This included a map of northeastern France showing the locations where he served. The 82nd was composed of men from all 48 states and therefore became known as the “All American Division,” hence the stylized “AA” painted in a circle.

In the late 1960s Lenker gave his M1917 helmet, along with his uniform, woolen leggings, issued Bible and other mementos of his service in World War I, to his grand-nephew Bruce D. Bomberger, a young history buff who was about 10 years old at the time. Bomberger took great care to safeguard these historic treasures, and when he grew up to become a historic preservationist for PHMC, he donated them to the agency’s Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Centre County, so that they could be better preserved, interpreted as historic artifacts, and shared with the public.


Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.