Questions or comments? Please email me at:
1895 Collister & Sayle
In one of the first articles written for AntiqueFootball in March, 2015, ("Who Invented the Football Helmet"), I concluded that Thomas Larwood, Jr. of Cleveland, Ohio was the true inventor of the football helmet. Unlike other claimants, Larwood's patented "Head Protector," was unique in that it was specifically designed for use in football as an injury preventive device.
We know that Thomas Larwood sold sporting goods at his Cleveland business, Larwood & Day Co. in 1894. However, there was no evidence that Larwood produced or sold the Head Protector to the public. My conclusion that Larwood's invention represented the dawn of 120 years of football evolution was based on the similarities between Larwood's patent design and the first commercially available football helmets manufactured by A..G. Spalding & A.J. Reach & Co. in the late 1890's.
In 1897, A.G. Spalding & Bros. introduced the No. 35 "Head Harness," which was nearly identical to the design in Larwood's 1895 patent. Advertisements for the No. 35 listed it as "Patented" but there were no other patents awarded for football headgear between 1895 and 1900.
Collister & Sayle's "1895 Catalogue of Foot Ball Goods" contains 14 pages of ads for footballs, pants, pads, sweaters....and on page 10...an advertisement for the "Larwood Foot Ball Helmet." Collister & Sayle was a sporting goods retailer operating out of Cleveland, Ohio between 1892 and 1922 that sold a variety of baseball, football, boxing, and gymnasium goods. Their 317 Superior Street store was located half a block from Larwood & Day, at 259 Superior Street.
The catalog advertisement is an incredible find for several reasons. First, it reveals that Larwood did produce and sell his head protector, making it the first football helmet ever sold by a sporting goods retailer.
Vintage athletic catalogs are viewed as pedestrian artifacts compared to sports cards and vintage game used collectibles. However, the information contained within these relics can prove to be just as valuable to collectors as the artifacts they advertised. Our November 2016 Artifact of the Month is a rare Collister & Sayle foot ball catalog that helps validate the history of the invention of the football helmet.
A.G. Spalding & Bros. Head Harness Evolution 1895-1925
Second, Larwood's "Head Protector" is referred to as a "Foot Ball Helmet." Based on my research, this is the first known reference to a football "helmet" in any publication. Late nineteenth century 4-spoke protectors were commonly known as "head harnesses" during that period. A keyword search of contemporary athletic catalogs and online newspaper archives reports no instances of the phrase "football" and "helmet" used together until "foot ball head helmet" appears in 1900.
Third, Collister & Sayle advertised the "Larwood Foot Ball Helmet" on the same page as Spalding's No. 15 and No. 25 "Head Harness." Collister's distinction between these two products is clear; Spalding's head harnesses were exclusively for the protection of the ears, while Larwood's helmet "affords protection to all parts of the head and ears..."
Finally, Larwood's helmet receiving top billing in the Collister & Sayle catalog could not have escaped the notice of A.G. Spalding's distributers and executives 350 miles away in Chicago. If the helmet truly was "meeting with favor among players wherever used," there's little doubt that the expansion minded sports conglomerate pursued and obtained the acquisition of Larwood's patent rights.
Patent Illustration, Patent 532,567, "Head Protector"
T.W. Larwood, Jr. submitted September 15, 1894
Larwood & Day Advertisement, The Cleveland Directory for the Year Ending July, 1894
No. 35 Head Harness Ad
Spalding Fall & Winter Catalog for 1900
At AntiqueFootball, we are constantly looking for new information to expand the knowledge of the evolution of American football equipment. We pay retail prices for vintage athletic catalogs to expand our library, and are always willing to share scans, stories, and knowledge free of charge.
1895 Collister & Sayle Football Catalog Cover
Larwood Foot Ball Helmet Advertisement, 1895 Collister & Sayle Catalog
Inside Cover, 1895 Collister & Sayle Catalog
The No. 35 was sold by both Spalding and A. J. Reach & Co. between 1897 and 1903. Every future helmet produced by these companies was a refinement or improvement to the No. 35 head harness. So was the No. 35 the first commercially available football helmet? Thanks to our November 2016 Artifact of the Month, we now know the answer to be....no.