December 6, 2023

Bucs Life

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A Brief History of the Football Helmet

2 min read

My wife mentioned to me as I was writing a different article, that a history of the helmet would be an interesting topic.

So I went to the internet to see what I could find.

In 1888 the College Football Rules Convention voted to allow tackling below the waist.

With tackling being the norm, protection for the players naturally followed.

In 1886 George Barclay was credited for the creation of the first football helmet.

In 1939 College Football made the helmet mandatory, in 1943 the NFL followed suit.

When the helmet first came out, it was known as the “Head Harness.” It had three leather straps forming a tight fit around the head.

The University of Michigan has its logo that bears this original design.

In 1940 the first plastic helmet was designed by John T. Riddell and his son, John T. Riddell J.R.

Also in 1940 the chin strap was invented and attached to the chin instead of the neck where it previously was placed.

That same year the plastic facemask was introduced.

In 1955 the single-bar facemask was invented in collaboration between Riddell and the coach of the Cleveland Browns, Paul Brown.

The University of Michigan was again involved in the progression of the football helmet when Dr. Richard Schneider saw the importance of air in cushioning the head from contact.

He is credited for the bladder system in helmets and was hired for the mass production by Schutt Sports in the early 1970s.

The new bladder system had valves on the crown of the helmet which allowed air to be pumped into the bladders inside of the plastic shell.

Players would first put the helmet on then pump air into them.

For the cold weather in places like Green Bay Wisconsin, they would pump a type of antifreeze into the bladders!

The four strap chin strap came along in 1976 and was introduced in college football. It’s invention kept the helmet in place on the players head.

In the 1980s and 1990s polycarbonate alloy plastic helmets with vinyl coated steel alloy face masks were the norm.

In my research on the helmet’s history, I’ve found it interesting that when one rule such as making it “legal” to tackle below the waist, causes a trickle effect and the need for safety.

Player safety then leads to inventions to protect those playing the sport.

Helmets have come a long way since their inception, and continue to improve the safety of players at every level!

As always, Go Bucs!