A Short History of American Football Helmets
The Head Harness
When it comes to American Football helmets, there is some argument among historians as to "who" invented the first football protective gear. There is a reference to a Navy Midshipman named Joseph Mason Reeves, later Admiral Reeves, going to an Annapolis shoemaker to craft head protection so he could continue playing without the fear of death or as his doctor of the time stated, "instant insanity."
The first documented head protection was made in 1896 at Lafayette College. A player there named George Barclay was so fearful that he would get cauliflower ear, had a blacksmith fashion a leather harness to protect his head and ears. Thus the first football harness.
Head protection was not mandatory equipment, early on. As a matter of fact, in the early days of football, wearing head protection usually resulted in attacks against a mans masculinity. These attacks usually resulted in a more physical response and the game continued to be brutal.
Padding increased around the thighs and shoulders, and head protection became increasingly popular. Full leather helmets were designed to protect the full head and left opening around the ears so that players could hear the play calling on the field.
Leather Football Helmets continued
Helmet designs improved over the years by adapting more padding and by adding a strap harness on the inside of the helmet to reduce the pressure of impact. In 1905, then president, Theodore Roosevelt demanded rules changes be made to the game because football injuries were getting out of hand. This led to the creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA. One of the most important rule changes was the adoption of the forward pass. This rule opened up the field and reduced football injuries by a staggering 31%.
Even with the creation of the NCAA and a uniform set of rules, the head injuries continued. It wasn't until 1939 that the use of a football helmet was made mandatory in collegiate football and then it was made mandatory in 1943 for the professional teams of the NFL.
Rawlings and Spalding were some of the first manufacturers of leather football helmets. But in 1939, John T. Riddell patented the first plastic football helmet. The first plastic helmets had problems because they were brittle when hit head on. But years of research and development in energy absorbing technology has led the Riddell helmets to being the most widely used helmets in modern day football. The Riddells' Revolution helmet is the most advanced football helmet on the market.