The Evolution of the Football Helmet

Evolution of the Football Helmet


Without the football helmet, there would be no such thing as Monday Night Football or Friday Night Lights. (And that would seriously be tragic.) The subject of keeping our favorite players safe has been hotly debated in recent years as the number of serious head injuries increases. But the helmet has come a long way since its invention more than 100 years ago. From chin straps to leather caps, cooling devices to impact sensors, here's how the football helmet has evolved over time to keep those players in tip-top shape.


After being advised to stop playing the game to avoid another head injury (and permanent brain damage), Joseph "Bull" Reeves hires a shoemaker to fashion him a protective leather cap to keep him in the game.

George Barclay commissions a horse harness maker to fashion him a leather cap with chin straps to protect his ears.


The ZH helmet is developed, improving on the design of previous leather caps by distributing the force of impact across the head.


The first facemask is invented by Vern McMillain (a sporting goods salesman) to protect players' noses. The mask - a simple bar that attached to the helmet near the ears - would also help transfer the impact of hits to the outside of the helmet (and away from the brain).


The National Collegiate Athletic Association mandates that players wear helmets during games.

John T. Riddell invents the first plastic shell helmet and develops better chin straps and face masks. Although the shell was brittle and would easily crack, the design paved the way for today's modern plastic and composite helmets.

Late 1940s

Plastic helmets become commonplace.

The first logos to appear on the helmets of the Los Angeles Rams thanks to one of their players, Fred Gehrke.

Early 1970s

Helmet manufacturers begin using inflatable air pockets to better fit helmets to players' heads (and offer additional protection beyond the hard outer shell).


Stainless steel facemasks are added to helmets.


Polycarbonate, a very durable plastic, becomes the primary helmet-making material.


Riddell introduces the "Revolution" helmet, the first specifically designed to protect against concussions.


Schutt Sports releases the "Ion 4D" and it becomes the world's most popular helmet. The 4D offers greater protection than earlier models with a design focused on keeping players' heads cool.

Riddell introduces the "Revolution IQ HITS," the first helmet that allows individual players to record the number and force of impact of hits.


Giants defensive end Justin Tuck unveils the new facemask he'll use for the 2012 season, a mesh of 12 diagonal and five horizontal bars made by Schutt Sports, one of the most intricate designs seen to date (and a far cry from the single bars introduced 80 years prior).

The Evolution of the Football Helmet

shared by greatist on Oct 10, 2012 in Sports


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With the NFL season in full swing, we took an in-depth look at the technology that helps keep our favorite players safe. Check out our infographic detailing the evolution of the football helmet, from ...
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Category: Sports



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