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Brodie, John Leopold [formerly Leopold Janno Braude]locked

(1873–1945)
  • Stephen Bull

Brodie, John Leopold [formerly Leopold Janno Braude] (1873–1945), businessman and inventor, was by his own account born in Riga (at that time in the Russian empire) on 10 June 1873, the son of a railway builder (Buffalo Courier Express, 22 August 1926). Aged seventeen he left Russia to avoid military service, and headed for South Africa to seek his fortune. He claimed to have become, aged twenty-one, a British subject (and described his nationality as British for much of his adult life) and also to have served in the transport service of the British forces during the South African War. As a dealer in house property he was declared bankrupt in Cape Town in 1897. He subsequently made frequent visits to Britain, doing so in May 1902 to sell options that he had acquired for mining property in South Africa. As Leopold Janno Braude, resident at the Hotel Cecil in London, he was adjudged bankrupt in March 1904 along with a South African business associate on account of losses following their purchase in 1903 of an anthracite colliery in south Wales (London Gazette, 1 April 1904, 2166). Subsequent sailings across the Atlantic in 1907 and 1909, as J. Leopold Braude, reflected his growing North American business interests.

In 1910 he gave notice of his intention to spell his surname as Brodie, and to be known as John Leopold Brodie (Manchester Guardian, 2 November 1910). Under that name, and giving his residence as the Savoy Hotel, London, he sailed for North America early in 1911 where he was involved in a syndicate to purchase the rights to a potentially lucrative process for manufacturing salt. In October 1911 he was cited as a co-respondent in divorce proceedings brought by Stewart Hill Jones, president of the Canadian Bronze Company, against his wife, Eleanora Antoinette Thompson Jones (1879–1935), who was alleged to have met Brodie when he was a guest at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, posing as an Austrian prince. After her divorce, she married Brodie at Bridgeburg, Welland, Ontario, Canada, on 31 March 1912; she was the daughter of John M. Thompson, inventor. In 1913 Brodie floated a company to acquire his own patent process for salt extraction and electricity generation, together with land and plant which he had acquired for the purpose in Middlewich, Cheshire. The couple lived in Cheshire up to the outbreak of the First World War, when they moved to London where they were mainly resident until 1920.

During the war Brodie developed the steel helmet with which his name is associated. With the onset of trench warfare on the western front, a high incidence of head wounds became a problem for all combatants. Steel skull caps worn under cloth headgear were an early expedient, but in mid-1915 the French introduced the 'Adrian', a dedicated protective helmet of multipart construction. Britain experimented with the same model, but ultimately decided to produce her own 'shrapnel' helmet giving better protection, especially from missiles from above.

Key to the project was a liner, designed by Brodie, bringing together mining experience and the realization that a cushioned cradle between head and helmet shell was crucial to shock and injury reduction. His August 1915 patent for an 'improved helmet or head shield' was less explicit about the form of the 'strong outer shell of metal' (Patent 1915: 11, 803). Two Brodie-type helmet samples were prepared, both of mild steel, of which the second or ‘B’ type, was approved on 26 September 1915. By the second week of October production reached 850 units daily. However it was now decided that a more resistant shell of hardened manganese steel, as suggested by Brodie, should be introduced. This not only took longer to produce, but created a flatter profile as the new material was more difficult to stamp. The metal described as ‘Hadfield’ steel, or ‘Mangalloy’, as devised by Sir Robert Hadfield, was initially supplied by Firth of Sheffield.

Experience in the field led to minor improvements from May 1916 including a folded rim to the edge of the helmet, revised liner, and a roughened exterior texture to what was now known as the 'Mark 1' helmet. While the helmet clearly covered less of the head than its German counterpart the munitions design committee would nevertheless express satisfaction that 'our helmet steel probably gives better results, weight for weight' (munitions design committee, 1916, minutes, TNA: PRO,T80, T83).

That the new British helmet was useful can be judged both from increased numbers of men surviving head wounds, and from complaints that it was not issued quickly enough. Initially provided in limited numbers as a 'trench store', it was later supplied on a scale of one per soldier starting with those at the front. Delivery of the first million from manufacturers was completed by July 1916. With American entry into the war British helmets were supplied to America, then copied in the USA. Though Brodie also patented a second and distinctively different helmet with a visor, this was not widely adopted (Patent 1917: 120606). By the end of the conflict, the shallow inverted 'soup bowl', 'tin hat', or 'battle bowler' had become an iconic object, later adorning both British commemorative statuary, and American war cemeteries. Though there were further modifications, the basic design remained current until 1942 in the USA, and 1943 in the UK.

The distinctive British and American helmet was known by the name 'Brodie' from an early stage, many being marked internally 'Brodie's steel helmet'. The official history of the ministry of munitions referred to 'the Brodie helmet' (vol. 11.1, 101), and the American authority on the history of armour and adviser to the US army Bashford Dean credited Brodie with its invention (Dean, 128). Even so the degree to which sole authorship could be claimed has been disputed. Brodie waged a prolonged campaign for financial recognition for the helmets made in the United States, starting in the American courts in the 1920s, and still unresolved by the United States commission on war inventions when it heard evidence in London as late as 1932.

Early in 1921 Brodie and his wife took up residence in West Ferry Street, Buffalo. He acquired American nationality in 1925 and in the following year was described as a prosperous Buffalo citizen, concerned for a sister in his native Russia, who possibly perished in the Bolshevik revolution. Brodie continued to visit Britain, his last recorded arrival being in April 1939. He died in New York on 30 June 1945.

Sources

  • New York Times (18 Oct 1911)
  • IWM, Uni 377; Uni 12606; Uni 9573; Uni 9832
  • GB patents, 191511803 (A) 1916–08–10; 120606 (A) 1918–11–11; 120607 (A) 1918–11–11
  • B. Dean, Helmets and body armor in modern warfare (1920)
  • History of the ministry of munitions, 11: The supply of munitions (1922), pt. 1, 100–02, 109
  • passenger lists, Oceanic, 14 Aug 1907; Celtic, 5 Sept 1909; Lusitania, 7 Jan 1911; Carmania, 26 May 1912; Duchess of Richmond, 23 Oct 1936; Laconia, 17 Oct 1938; Laconia, 24 April 1939
  • London electoral registers, 1918–21
  • US Federal census returns, 1920, 1930
  • m. cert. [Ontario]
  • New York City municipal deaths indexes

Likenesses

  • portrait, repro. in Buffalo Courier Express (1926)
Imperial War Museum, London