When “football” first began being played in the United States it was indeed called football, but it looked far more similar to the game of rugby that had been imported to collegiate fields from across the Atlantic from England.This means that there were no players wearing headgear when Princeton and Rutgers squared off for the first college football game in history in 1869.
It’s the 1890s before any consistent mention of head protection devices are found with at least a couple of sources claiming that the first in-game use of a “helmet” came during the 1893 edition of the Army Navy game in Annapolis.
Reason for Helmet
The obvious reason for the helmet’s coming of age in football and its eventual technological transformation was and is injury prevention.This scenario was spurred along as the game of American football changed from the rugby-like game of the 19th century to the game we know today; a slow but steady change brought on by a series of rule modifications introduced by the likes of Walter Camp.
Helmet looked like
That said, helmets were not a mandatory piece of equipment in college ball until 1939, so before that time looking across a field on game day you were likely to see a sampling of bare heads and a wide variety of “helmets.”The first helmets used in football were made out of leather straps or mole skin fused together to protect players who had a concern for their own safety.
Where they put it in
These crude, handmade helmets, which didn’t even cover the entire head, gave way to the more familiar “ear flap” or aviator models we think of when we conjure up visions of the earlier editions of gridiron head protection.The idea of padding for comfort coupled with impact absorption toyed with in the early leather models was improved upon by Illinois coach Robert Zuppke, who led the Illini to a 131-81-12 mark from 1913-1941 including eight Big Ten titles and four national championships.Other than the actual leather product stiffening and becoming more impact resistant over time, the next major advancement in helmet technology came in the 1940s when a Chicago sporting goods company by the name of Riddell patented the plastic football helmet.