Parish-Reading: The Forgotten Helmet Manufacturer of WWII

Updated: a day ago

Our Beginner's Guide to WWII M1 helmets commences with the following sentence: "Two main companies produced the majority of WWII M1 helmets - McCord Radiator & Manufacturing Co., located in Detroit, Michigan and Schlueter Manufacturing Co., located in St. Louis, Missouri"... but there was a third - Parish-Reading, of Reading, Pennsylvania.

During WWII, private American manufacturers shifted their operations to produce war material under government contracts. In late 1944, both Detroit and St. Louis were experiencing labor shortages; further compounding the problem were the ever-changing demands placed on wartime producers - one month the Army needed canteens, the next it needed airplane seats. In turn, the Ordnance Department thought it wise to seek out a third producer of the steel M1 helmet. Very little is known about this third producer, however a handful of wartime documents have surfaced and this article attempts to shed some light on just how many Parish-Reading helmets were produced.

M1 helmet drawing and specifications.
M1 helmet drawing and specifications.

On January 25, 1945, the Philadelphia Ordnance District awarded to Parish Pressed Steel Company contract W-36-034-ORD-4296. Beginning in March 1945 and running until September 1945, Parish was required to "draw, spank, visor, and trim" a total of 460,000 raw helmet bodies, at a price per helmet of $0.6619, but in all actuality it produced far fewer helmets.

Parish-Reading WW2 Helmet
Parish Manufacturing Co., circa 1910 (would later change its name to Parish Pressed Steel Co. in 1919).

These unfinished helmets still required rim and loop application, paint, and chinstrap bartacking. That is where Reading Hardware Corporation came in. Just two days later, on January 27, 1945, Reading Hardware was awarded contract W-36-034-ORD-4297. Beginning in April 1945 and running until October 1945, Reading Hardware was to finish, paint, assemble, and package Parish's 460,000 raw helmets, at an original price of $0.75 per helmet. Evidently, Reading Hardware discovered it could not fulfill the contract at $0.75 per helmet, so on May 12, 1945 the contract was amended and the price was increased to $0.79 per helmet.


So how many helmets were actually completed? If the early days of McCord and Schlueter's manufacturing process are any indication, it is likely Reading Hardware also had production problems of its own. This theory seems to be supported by the available documents. In March 1945, Parish and Reading Hardware both joined McCord and Schlueter in membership in the Industry Integration Committee at Watertown Arsenal. It was in this committee that the members discussed helmet manufacturing pitfalls and solutions.

Parish-Reading WW2 Helmet
An excerpt from "Investigation of Helmets at Watertown Arsenal 1940-1945" (March 15, 1946).

Two months later, on May 1, 1945, an Ordnance Department Production Schedules and Estimates chart was completed. It shows that as of that date, Reading Hardware had yet to finish any helmets. It was predicted that by July 1945, it should have completed 10,000 helmets, August 50,000, September 80,000, October 70,000, November 60,000, and by December 30,000 (for a running total of 300,000 helmets). The bottom portion of the document shows that Reading Hardware would not even begin working on those production goals until June.

Parish-Reading WW2 Helmet
Ordnance Department Production Schedules and Estimates chart (May 1, 1945).

Just the following week, however, the Allies claimed victory in Europe on May 8, 1945. This meant that two manufacturers (McCord and Schlueter) who had been, up to that point, efficiently producing helmets for both the Pacific and European Theaters of War could now shift their entire focus to outfitting men for the planned invasion of Japan. What need was there now for Parish-Reading helmets?

American servicemen and women celebrate the end of WWII.
American servicemen and women celebrate the end of WWII.

It turns out there wasn't much need at all; with victory over Japan achieved just three months later on August 15, 1945, all three manufacturers began winding down their helmet operations. A March 15, 1946 experimental report from the Watertown Arsenal Laboratory, titled Investigation of Helmets Conducted at Watertown Arsenal 1940 - 1945 shows that Reading Hardware ceased all helmet production in August 1945. One month later, Parish listed for sale as scrap 73,681 steel discs that were to be pressed into helmets and 1,464 already-pressed helmets that would have otherwise been sent to Reading Hardware for completion.

Parish-Reading WW2 Helmets
Parish Pressed Steel Co.'s advertisement in the "Philadelphia Inquirer" to sell for scrap unfinished helmets (September 26, 1945).

This means that any helmets Reading Hardware produced would have had to have been completed between June and August 1945. So how many helmets could have possibly been finished during those three months? If we refer to the Ordnance Department Production Schedules and Estimates chart above, just 60,000; and that's if everything went according to schedule - which, prior to that point, it was not. The true figure may be deduced by looking at the State Listing of Major War Supply Con