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The History of Riddell Football Helmets – Protecting Your Noggin Since 1939

In 1929, John Tate Riddell started his company with a vision to provide better sports equipment for athletes. And such an idea turned out to be very beneficial, not only for JT Riddell but also for the players, because from this concept the first manufacturer of football headgear in the country was born.

Removable Stud — The history of Riddell football helmets began with a removable stud. This design was prepared by Riddell when he was still an athletic director and at the same time head of the football coaching staff at a certain high school located in Evanston, Illinois. The year was 1922 when the head coach saw the need to develop the current leather shoes for his team. With the onset of the rainy season, such a condition dictates the need to change the cleats and install a longer mud cleat to accommodate said variable. This process is time consuming, not to mention that the cobbler in charge of doing this task was also hired by a university and therefore could not finish all the shoes before playing time. The invention of removable cleats was openly welcomed and thus sparked a series of innovations that laid the foundations for the history of Riddell football helmets.

Ten years after the company was founded, Riddell launched the first plastic suspension helmet. This breakthrough has caught the attention of the government as it will surely benefit the braves of World War II. This is one of the finest points in the history of Riddell football helmets.

With protection as the main focus, it’s hard to believe that helmets, rather than pads, were the last to gain acceptance in professional football. The former isn’t even mandatory in football—that’s until 1939, when the NFL ordered players to wear such a protective helmet. Before the dawn of plastic helmets, there was leather. Players can be protected from concussions but not from heat—air can barely circulate inside.

Evolution is inevitable; the same is true in the history of Riddell football helmets. The RT-2 was the first headset designed by the company and sold to the public. This model of helmet was made in 1946, a year after the death of JT Riddell. RT-2 was a three-piece hull using Tenite II with cotton canvas suspension for the head and neck. This suspension has an air pocket between the head and the shell of the helmet. Although Riddell couldn’t see the evolution and expansion of his business, he will always live in every noggin he protected, whether it was attached to an amateur or professional football player.

After RT-2 was RK-4. The latter resembles the shape of the RT-2, although the shell material differs. RK-4 was made using a chemical called acrilonitrile butadiene styrene concocted by US Rubber. The cotton webbing that was present in the RT-2 has been replaced with a combination of cotton and nylon. Both models featured the regular 3-loop, 6-point suspension.

The history of Riddell football helmets includes the TK-5 and PAC-44 models. Both shared the same hull composition as the RK-4. The difference lies in the inner cushion. TK-5 was originally padded with cotton. However, it was modified for the one inside the RK-4, which was made of cotton and nylon. As for the PAC-44, the same was tagged and intended for young people. It featured a vinyl interior air cushion.

From these forerunners, the company has progressed with play. With its “firsts” like web suspension, air-cushioned interior and self-inflating helmet to name a few, it is really hard to imagine the sports equipment scene without Riddell.

That’s the story of Riddell football helmets…so far. With ingenious minds continually coming up with new ideas, it’s easy to tell another touchdown is just around the corner.

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