How Football Helmets Are Made

The Helmet is an Essential Piece of Equipment for Football Players at All Levels from PeeWees to Professionals

Photo of football players on offensive lineFootball season is here! To get into the spirit of new gridiron action, this In the Mix blog explores how football helmets are made.

Any football fan knows the helmet isn’t just for looks. It is an essential piece of protective equipment for players from peewee to professional. Originally introduced over 120 years ago, the football helmet protects a player’s head from injuries such as contusions, concussions and fractures.

Let look a little at the history of football helmets before looking at how the modern helmet is made and evolving.

Football Helmet History
Photo of football player in old football and uniform on ground

Football helmets were originally created to prevent “instant insanity” if kicked in the head.

The first football helmets were Introduced by Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves in 1893 for the Army-Navy game that year. Made of a moleskin hat with earflaps by a local shoemaker, Reeves believed the helmets would prevent a player from experiencing “instant insanity” if kicked in the head.

Helmets did not evolve much beyond Reeves’ first incarnation for several decades, when they were hardened and had more padding and flaps. In the late 1930’s, John Riddell introduced the forbearer of the modern helmet – one with a plastic shell. However, the NFL banned Riddell’s helmet for nearly a decade due to a plastic shortage during World War II and a plastic formulation that was prone to break.

photo of two football players on sideline

Modern football helmets have a variety of shell, facemask and chinstrap designs to optimize player comfort and performance.

With improvements, Riddell’s football helmet design became the sport’s defacto standard and evolved to include facemasks and custom colors/graphics. Alternative shell materials and various forms of internal padding including air bladders and multi-layer foam have also been introduced over the years.

Today, football helmets are more sophisticated than ever as designers look to improve player comfort with personalized fit/features and provide better shock absorption/dispersion to minimize concussions and other injuries from impact.

How Football Helmets are Made

The sophisticated design of the modern football helmet also makes it more complicated to manufacture. Helmet production includes the following steps:

The first step in football helmet production is shaping the outer shell from molded polycarbonate, a very strong polymer that can withstand stronger impacts and extreme temperatures. Polycarbonate is also durable, lightweight, and resistant to scratches and cracks.

The next production step is drilling holes for attaching other components such as the facemask and chinstrap.

After holes are drilled, padding is added inside the shell. The padding is important for fit, stability and protection. It can consist of various components including air bladders, foam and other materials that absorb or deflect shock. The composition, geometry and placement of these components continue to evolve at a rapid pace as new research, computer-assisted design and innovations in material science provide ever-increasing options to improve helmet performance and player safety.

The fourth step in making a football helmet is attaching the face mask. The face mask is made of one or more plastic-coated metal bars that protect the face and eyes from direct contact with other players or objects. The face mask also allows for visibility and breathability.

Different positions have different types of face masks to balance protection and visibility. For example, quarterbacks and receivers have more open face masks to allow for better vision, while linemen have more closed face masks to prevent injuries from fingers or hands.

The final step in football helmet production is adding a chinstrap and other accessories. The chinstrap is a strap that goes under the chin and secures the helmet to the head. It prevents the helmet from sliding off or moving around during play. Some players also add polycarbonate visors to their helmets, which are transparent shields that protect their eyes from glare and impacts. Other accessories include decals, stickers, or paint to customize the appearance of the helmet.

The Football Helmet Continues to Evolve

With player safety the top priority, designers continue to look for new and innovative ways to optimize football helmet performance. Some of the latest innovations in helmet design include the following products:

  • Riddell SpeedFlex helmet – Yes, that Riddell. This helmet features a flexible front panel to reduce impact force on the head and neck and a sensor that measures the severity and location of impacts. Coaches and/or medical staff can determine if a player needs attention based on information from the sensor.
  • VICIS ZERO2 helmet: This helmet features a shell structure that deforms on impact to dissipate energy and reduce linear and rotational forces on the head.
  • Schutt F7 helmet: A three-dimensional system allows this helmet to move independently from the head in any direction.

Football helmets are vital for protecting players from serious head injuries, but they are not foolproof. Players still need to follow proper tackling techniques, concussion protocols, and safety rules to prevent or minimize brain damage. Football helmets are not just pieces of equipment; they are products of science, engineering, and innovation.

For More Information

ProQuip tank agitators are used in the manufacturing process for many of the polymer materials used in football helmet components. For more information on ProQuip mixing solutions, email or call us at 330-468-1850.