The History of Football’s Protective Gear

American Football is a physical sport. There are constant injuries that come from the field. Because of this, players are required to wear protective gear from knee pads, to helmets, to shoulder pads. However, the gear has come a long way since its first creation back in 1893.

Nowadays, football is widely known for its bulky pads, and big heavy helmets, but it wasn’t always like that. In fact, you would most likely not be able to differentiate 1900s football to modern day rugby. Now, how exactly did the protective gear evolve?

Well, the first piece of equipment created specifically to help players’ safety on the football field were football pads. Originally created in 1877 by a man of the name L.P. Smock, these pads were thin quilted layers sewn on players’ shoulders, thighs, and knees. While they didn’t provide a lot of protection, it was only the beginning of what would be required of every player in the future.


The other most popular piece of football protective gear was the helmet. Nowadays, helmets are seen as bulky, heavy metal headgear, almost like a motorcycle helmet. However, when the first iteration of the football helmet was created in 1893 by an Annapolis shoe maker for a U.S Army Admiral, it was nothing more than a leather skull cap, with two ear holes.


As American Football continues to gain more and more popularity within the United States, the game evolved. Players began learning new techniques and ways of winning games, they started hitting harder. Naturally, with the evolution of the players, the protective gear followed. The 1930s is really when football’s protective gear started to change in noticeable ways. 

On December 10th, of 1930, the football pads leaped in technological advancement, and players saw the first version of separate football shoulder pads. These shoulder pads were made of thick leather that covered the shoulders and chest.


On November 30th, of 1935, the football helmet also made a huge leap in advancement, as this year featured the facemask. Although it was only a single bar stretching across the players chin-mouth area, it signified the evolution that protective gear would soon follow.


When manufacturing companies like Riddell and Schutt saw how popular the National Football League was getting, they scrambled to find a way to acquire some of the revenue the game was gaining. So, they built even better protective gear. After 30 years of players using plastic helmets, the first polycarbonate helmet was designed by the John T. Riddell company for players in the NFL.


In 1986, the shoulder pad industry also saw a big jump in improvement. The shoulder pads were now made of plastic and soft cushioning that would help absorb the impact an external player would give.


As you can see, protective gear in the game of American Football has evolved quite a bit in the past century, and it won’t stop evolving for quite a while now. Those same two companies that revolutionized the modern football helmets, are still releasing even better and safer helmets to this day. And the companies that revolutionized the modern football shoulder pads continue to find new ways to ensure players safety on the field.