Updated: Oct 9, 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Contracts ("War Supply").
These were periodical reports which showed outstanding contracts valued greater than $50,000. A trend begins to form as the final days of the war approach: the U.S. government is requesting fewer and fewer helmets than originally called for in the January 1945 contracts. The August 6, 1945 War Supply report, which contained active contracts up to June 30, 1945, shows Parish was contracted to produce 304,000 raw M1 helmets.
The same publication shows Reading Hardware was contracted to finish a total of 416,000 helmets.
A subsequent publication of the War Supply report, which contained outstanding contracts through September 1945, shows a significant reduction in helmets requested from Reading Hardware at just 101,000.
As for Parish's helmet contract, no entry is to be found.
We know that every helmet Reading Hardware finished it first got from Parish, so why does the subsequent War Supply report no longer show Parish's helmet contract? It is this author's opinion it comes down to the price of the contract. Remember, these reports only included contracts valued at greater than $50,000. Perhaps the final iteration of Parish's contract did not exceed $50,000, and therefore, would not be included in the War Supply report.
Parish's original contract: 460,000 helmets multiplied by $0.6619 per helmet, would total $304,474. If production ran for seven consecutive months (as was originally outlined in both Parish's and Reading Hardware's contracts), an average of 65,714 helmets would be produced per month at a price of $43,496. Given that Reading Hardware had finished zero helmets by May 1945 and was only estimated to finish 60,000 before the war ended (and production ceased) in August, it is plausible that the government requested Parish only make approximately a month's worth of unfinished helmets for Reading Hardware. Reading Hardware quoted the government $0.79 per helmet and if it planned to receive 65,714 helmets this would equal $51,914.06, explaining why its contract would still appear in the War Supply report, but not Parish's.
So how rare are Parish-Reading helmets? If we generously rounded up the figure above to 70,000 finished helmets and compared it to McCord's 20,000,000 and Schlueter's 2,000,000, Parish-Reading helmets would account for less than half of 1% of all M1 helmets produced during the war, making Parish-Reading helmets even more rare than "D-bail" paratrooper helmets. Personally, this author believes overall production to be closer to those totals listed in the Ordnance Department Production Schedules and Estimates chart - that is, approximately 10,000+ helmets produced before operations ceased mid-August 1945.
So, what do they look like compared to both McCord and Schlueter? Their angles are more dramatic and in fact Parish-Reading helmets conform much more closely to the original M1 helmet blueprint than those helmets produced by either of the two earlier manufacturers.
Instead of their heat stamps being located by the front visor area, Parish-Reading helmets are stamped by the wearer's right chinstrap loop. Each known example showcases a 'P' prefix followed by a number (these stampings were applied by Parish - hence the 'P'). Of the few surviving helmets (we know of approximately 10 examples), only six different heat stamps have been observed: P2A, P2C, P2D, P3, P4, and P6 (the P6 example was an unfinished helmet - perhaps one of those Parish sold as scrap in late 1945).
Being such a late-war helmet, all known examples share characteristics found on those being produced by McCord and Schlueter during the same timeframe: rear seams, swivel loops, manganese steel rims, and OD#7 (green) chinstraps with blackened hardware.
One feature exclusive to Parish-Reading helmets are the rim details. There are 13 individual welds all around the manganese rim, securing it to the helmet. It is this author's opinion that a wartime manufacturer would not intentionally complicate its production process, so why the 13 welds? The drastic silhouette of the helmet is likely to blame. A manganese rim would likely experience difficulty staying attached to such a curvy helmet, thus necessitating the 13 welds, which further complicated and delayed the production process.
If you would like to own one of the rarest helmet variations of the entire war, CIRCA1941 is very fortunate to offer for sale the Parish-Reading helmet photographed above.