The Story of Riddell Football Helmets: Protecting Your Head Since 1939

In 1929, John Tate Riddell founded his company armed with a vision to provide athletes with better sports equipment. And such an idea has proven to be very beneficial, not only for JT Riddell but also for the players, since from this concept of his came the leading manufacturer of football helmets in the country.

Removable Cleat — The story of Riddell football helmets began with a removable cleat. Said design was drawn up by Riddell when he was still the Athletic Director and at the same time head of the football coaching staff of a certain high school located in Evanston, Illinois. The year was 1922 when the first coach saw the need to develop the current leather footwear for his team. With the arrival of the rainy season, such a condition dictates the need to change the cleats and install a longer cleat to accommodate said variable. This process is time-consuming, not to mention that the cobbler tasked with this task was also hired by a university, so he was unable to finish all the shoes by game time. The invention of removable studs was well received and sparked a series of innovations that laid the foundation for the history of Riddell football helmets.

Ten years after the company was formed, Riddell pioneered the first plastic suspension helmet. This breakthrough caught the attention of the government because it will undoubtedly benefit the brave men of World War II. This is one of the best points in the history of Riddell football helmets.

With protection as the primary goal, it’s hard to believe that helmets, rather than guards, were the last to be accepted in professional football. The former isn’t even mandatory in football, that is, until 1939, when the NFL mandated that players wear this type of head protection. Before the dawn of plastic helmets, there was leather. Players may be protected against concussions, but not the heat: the air can barely circulate inside.

Evolution is inevitable; The same applies in the history of Riddell football helmets. RT-2 was the first helmet designed by the company and sold to the public. Said helmet model was manufactured in 1946, a year after the death of JT Riddell. RT-2 was a three-piece shell worn by Tenite II with cotton cloth suspension for the head and neck. Said suspension presents an air bag between the head and the shell of the helmet. Although Riddell couldn’t really see the evolution and expansion of his company, he will always live in every head he has protected, whether that be an amateur or professional football player.

After RT-2 was RK-4. The latter resembles the shape of the RT-2, although the case material is different. RK-4 was manufactured using a chemical called Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene made by US Rubber. The cotton tape that was present on the RT-2 was replaced with a combination of cotton and nylon. Both models exhibited the regular 3-loop, 6-point suspension.

The history of Riddell football helmets includes the TK-5 and PAC-44 models. The two shared the same shell composition as that of 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, it was labeled and intended for youth. It featured an inner air mattress made of vinyl.

From these precursors, the company has progressed along with the game. With its ‘firsts’ like net suspension, air-cushioned interior and self-inflating headgear to name a few, it’s really hard to imagine the sports gear scene without Riddell.

This is the story of Riddell football helmets…so far. With inventive minds continually formulating new ideas, it’s easy to say another moment is at hand.

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