Evolution of Football Helmets


This Sunday is something a lot of us have been waiting for – the big game. Through sprains, breaks, twists and turns, it’s no doubt that all of the NFL teams have played their hardest this season.

Although it may seem that a lot of injuries have been reported this season, Injuries in the NFL have actually decreased this season, including concussions. The data showed overall concussions for the preseason and regular season were down from 275 in 2015 to 244 in 2016. That includes a drop of 16 in regular-season games to 167.

Football helmets are the only thing protecting player’s heads from hard hits and head injuries during a game. A football helmet can be defined as: a piece of protective equipment used mainly in American football and Canadian football. It consists of a hard plastic shell with thick padding on the inside, a face mask made of one or more plastic-coated metal bars, and a chinstrap. However, when football helmets were first invented, this wasn’t the case.

The first use of football headgear dates back to 1869 when George “Rose” Barclay, the Lafayette College halfback, started to use straps and earpieces to protect his ears. There is no documentation on who actually invented the football helmet. However, some sources credit James Naismith, while others credit U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman, Joseph M. Reeves, who had a protective headpiece made out of mole skin in the 1893 Army-Navy game.

Helmets were widely used in football during the 1920’s. These helmets consisted of leather with some padding on the inside, but provided little protection. While the helmet was developed to protect the head, these helmets lacked face mask and as a result, injuries were still common.

It wasn’t until 1939, when the first plastic helmet became available. The Riddell Company of Chicago manufactured the first plastic helmet, believing it was safer than the leather options that were available. The plastic frame was able to hold its shape when collision occurred and included more padding and cushion for safety. The plastic helmet also included a plastic face mask, protecting the entire head.

In the mid-1940s, leather helmets were required in the NFL. It wasn’t until 1949 that the NFL officially adopted the plastic helmet, ending the leather helmet era. By the mid 50’s, single face bars were added to the helmets, and the first appearance of the radio helmet was introduced.

Through the 60’s, and 70’s, Riddell continued to innovate and improve the football helmet protection and design. By the 1980s, Riddell had become an icon with its classic helmet silhouette with a circular earhole, clean face mask lines, and rounded dome.

In 2002, in response to the study of head injuries, Riddell developed a new helmet designed called the Revolution. The revolution was the first significant remodel in 25 years, and as of 2007, Riddell has sold 750,000 helmets. In 2007, due to the demand for a safer football helmet, Schutt Sports announced the arrival of a next generation helmet, the Schutt ION 4D.

Today, players are allowed to choose their own helmets for their own reason. It can be for protection, nostalgia, or just because it looks good. However, all helmets have to be approved by the National Operating Committee on Standard for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).

Looking for added protection under your football helmet? Our 2nd Skull cap, with Impact Absorbing Technology, lets your look like the pros but with added protection. Comfortable under any sports helmet.


Photo via Keith Allison