Helmets Used in Football: a Timeline

In the sport of football, it is one of the most dangerous sports to play. This is due to the fact that players are at risk of exposing themselves to many life threatening injuries. The number one injury that players sustain in football is a concussion. This is due to the constant impacts throughout the game, many which involve a player landing on their head, coming into direct contact with a player’s helmet, or just getting hit straight on by a defender.

The constant impact that a player sustains contributes to the risk of them sustaining a head-related injury. The invention of the football helmet is what has saved so many athletes from concussion-related injuries. The history of the football helmet stems all the way back to 1893. Today, the evolution of the football helmet has changed so much in order to ensure that the risk of head injuries during the game decreases.

Back in 1893, the first helmet was introduced in an Army vs Navy football game.

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Admiral Joseph Mason Reeve was one of the players, and he had been kicked in the head so many times that his doctor told him that one more hit can seriously end up damaging his mental state. With this information, Reeve went and had the first football helmet made. The helmet was made up of a moleskin hat and ear flaps on the side. The helmet had no type of padding or protection. After that game, players continued to wear the moleskin material helmet, but it was not mandatory to have to wear a helmet until the 1930s.

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In the beginning of the 1900s, soft leather skull caps were designed in order to better the moleskin material helmets. These particular helmets still did not possess the necessary adjustments for proper head protection. Throughout the years, the helmets would continue to have more padding added on the inside, but they did not start any major improvements until the late 1930s.

The Riddell organization is the number one organization when it comes to the development of the football helmet. On every NFL helmet, today, people will see the logo “Riddell” in the center of their helmets. This company has been working on the football helmet for decades. According to NFL.com, Riddell was the first company to come out with the first plastic helmet back in the 1939; this helmet was considered a major improvement at the time, allowing some relief, but players were still prone to head injuries. About a year later, the first chin strap was introduced and was to be worn with the first plastic football helmet. According to Riddell.com, the chinstrap was developed in order to provide extra protection as well as holding the helmet in place.

Between the 1920s-1940s, also known as the Golden Age in football, players would wear helmets that were not decorated. They were either the plain leather design or the solid color plastic design. Once helmets became mandatory to wear in 1943, by the NFL, players wanted to start adding designs to their helmets. According to Past Time Sports, “As the great rivalries grew, colleges and high schools began to hand-paint their helmets.” The reasoning for the designs added to the helmets was not just for social appeal, but to help the quarterbacks recognize their wide receivers during the game. It was not until 1948, when teams began to paint their logos on their helmets, the first of which were the Ram’s horns.

Throughout all of this time that helmets were being reconstructed and having enhancements done to them, they were still open-faced; there was nothing protecting their face. Players would have black eyes, swollen lips, broken noses, etc. It was not until 1955, that the first official face guard was introduced. It was a single bar that went across the bottom of the face. This design was to ensure that the jaw of the player would be protected. In today’s game, the single bar use on a facemask is banned, due to the inability to provide extra protection to the face. As the years continue, more complex adjustments were made the facemask in order to ensure proper face protection. According to Smithsonian.com, the last time the single cross bar faceguard appeared, professionally, was in 2007. By the 1960s, every NFL player was required to have a double bar facemask on their helmet.

As the years continue to go on, it was not until 1956, when the most significant improvement to the football helmet was made. This was the year that the first radio helmet was introduced. It was first brought to the people’s attention by the Cleveland Browns. On Livestrong.com, the explain that this device allowed the coaches to communicate with their quarterbacks while they were on the sideline. This allowed them to assign plays while dealing with a loud, hostile environment. A few games later after they were introduced, these particular helmets were eventually banned from the league, but later reinstated in 1994 and is still being used to this day, according to Extremeteamsports.com. These helmets are not only used at the professional level but some at the collegiate level, too.

During the 1960s and 1970s, these were the times when manufacturers were investing more time into perfecting the football helmet. According to Riddell.com, these were the years when better padding and facemask started to improve greatly. The inside of helmets were starting to get lined with thicker padding, and Riddell introduced aero-cells in the helmet and their first micro-fit helmet. Aero-cells, according to Riddell.com, involved the inflation of air inside the helmet in order to fit the player’s head nice and snug, while the micro-fit helmet used molding technology that helped strengthen the structural integrity of the entire helmet. Once Riddell made a helmet that met the performance standards that they were looking, they continued to work on enhancing the facemasks of the helmets. Around the mid to late 1970s, the first stainless steel facemask was introduced. The old faceguards were only made of rubber and plastic, making them more prone to breakage and bendage. With the stainless steel facemasks, these provided a more sturdy line of protection. Today, there are many facemask options that players can choose from, depending on if they want protection or better visibility.

By the 1980s, the football helmet had become a more complex piece of equipment. Riddell created a polyurethane front pad along with updated suspension in order to absorb the energy from an impact. With the combination of foam and liquid-filled cells, whenever a player would sustain an impact in the head, the energy would disperse from one liquid-filled cell to another, allowing for the intensity of the impact to gradually decrease.

The last official change to the helmet came in the late 90s, when players were officially allowed to use face shields to protect their eyes from flying debris such as rain, grass, dirt, etc. In today’s game, they are called visors. Many players today like to use a different variety of visors, whether they are tinted or have a design on the visor. Many players where different color visors or have designs on them, however, a player must double check with officials before using a visor that may seem too dark. According to Smithsonian.com, tinted visors are only permitted with the appropriate medical documentation.

Today, when people look at the official rule for players wearing football helmets, there is not anything set in stone that fully protects a player from head injuries. The official rule of football helmets, stated on Smithsonian.com, says “Helmet with chinstrap (white only) fastened and face mask attached. Face masks must not be more than 5/8-inch in diameter and must be made of rounded material; transparent materials are prohibited.” That is all that is said in regards to wearing a football helmet. However, companies such as Riddell and Schutt are both creating designs in order to reduce the risk of head injuries. Riddell has already designed a helmet that specifically is for reducing concussions. For example, back in 2003, Riddell came out with the first helmet that monitors the impact from any contact on the head. The Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) monitors and records every incident involving a head impact. According to Riddell.com, it measures the intensity, location, direction and duration in which the impact was sustained and transmits it,wirelessly, to the sidelines for observation.

This system was only the beginning of the future of technology in football equipment. New helmets are being designed everyday in order to decrease the risk of concussions with football players. Today, a company called Vicis has come out with a new helmet design that could potentially save players’ brains from increased risk of head injuries. It is a flexible helmet called Zero1. This company believes that this is the future of football when it comes to the safety of the sport. Based off of this timeline of events with football helmets, it seems in the past few decades, the overall design of the helmet has not been changed. Even with the added padding and energy absorbing cells inside the helmet, there are still concussion related injuries amongst players, and companies are still struggling to find a solution.

Vicis’s approach on their new helmet design mimics that design of an automotive vehicle. With automobiles, they are designed with plastic bumpers and crumple zones (areas designed to crumble easily in crash and absorb the main impact). With Vicis’s helmet, they designed a helmet with a flexible outer shell made from bendable plastics along with an inner shell designed to line the head and provide a more customized fit. In an article by Liz Stinson, she says that the heart of the Vicis helmet lies beneath the outer shell, where there are hundreds of flexible columns designed to absorb shock. These specific columns vary in length and thickness, depending on their position in the helmet, and are made up of polymer that bends in any given direction when compressed. In short, that means that any impact that is coming head on will be more prone to easy shock absorption and will slow the acceleration of the force before it reaches the head. This specific helmet acts like bubble wrap. Any force that comes into contact with the helmet will be redistributed. According to Stinson’s article, she says that this helmet can reduce the amount of force upon impact from 20 to 50 percent, and for every 5 percent reduction in force, that can contribute to a 40 percent reduction in concussions.

The evolution of the football helmet has come a long way since the late 1890s. From starting with moleskin, to revolutionizing the helmet with polycarbonate and new technological features to enhance safety precautions. Head injuries are the most common injuries in the game of football and it is best to have the proper equipment to ensure one’s safety. Player’s nowadays that have been playing for years now are starting to show signs of dementia, early onset Alzheimer’s, and most importantly CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). This specific disease is caused by severe and/or repeated blows to the head, commonly from football related impacts. It causes a deterioration in attention, dementia, vertigo, suicide, etc. If people are getting paid to play a sport so dangerous, they must be provided with the necessary equipment. Throughout the years, companies have been working to try to make improvements to football helmets in order to ensure the safety of the players and as the years go on, more technological features will continue to help contribute to identifying and preventing any issues from arising.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Helmets Used in Football: a Timeline. (2024, Feb 03). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/helmets-used-in-football-a-timeline-essay

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