What we call football in the United States might look different from what the rest of the world calls football, but it’s come a long way since it was first developed in the late 1800s. Today, it’s the most popular sport in the United States, with 37% of the population declaring football their favorite sport. What inventions — and patents — have helped football become what it is today? As football season nears its end this year, let’s break down some of our favorites:
The Football Itself
In the early years of football, believe it or not, it was actually a pig’s bladder that was run from goal post to goal post. An emptied pig’s bladder was inflated and used for the first football games. Eventually, in 1923, John E. Maynard patented a football that was a little more sustainable…and less gross.(1) This football used a rubber “bladder” enclosed in leather, tanned, and stitched together in the center. It retains, however, that prolate spheroid shape that was characteristic of the original “pigskin” footballs.
Football is a game that can come with a hefty risk of head injuries. This is a heavy contact game, with tackling, catching balls thrown at far distances, and plenty of opportunity for accidents. Thus football helmets are a necessity. They were first invented by Riddell in 1939, though they were not patented until 1942. The first helmets were plastic helmets, but these were soon replaced by leather helmets with a plastic shell. Throughout football helmet history, Riddell has remained a big name, producing 9 of the 27 NFL “top performing” helmets.(2)
Foldable Stadium Chair
One of the most exciting parts of football is actually the passionate fans. Whether it’s high school football or the NFL, there are those diehard fans who show up to every game — home or away — to cheer for their team. But stadium seats have been notoriously uncomfortable, which is why in 1961, Francis H. Clute invented the Foldable Stadium Chair.(3) These chairs offer a comfortable alternative that can be attached and detached from the stadium seats. They’re perfect for back support, and they’ve only been improved upon in the past 60 years.
Football season brings with it another exciting time of the year, beloved by friend groups, families, and offices alike: fantasy football tournaments. In this virtual game, participants can pretend to be football team owners and managers. They can draft their favorite players onto one team and have them compete with the teams of their peers. Though it’s often done online now, it actually began in 1962 in a hotel room, conceived by Wilfred Winkenbach. It soon spread to offices and even to high school groups.
In 1991, when the opportunity was presented for it to become an interactive virtual game, it was patented.(4)
But this was just one of many patents to come. There’s a 2008 fantasy football system patent application, a 2010 patent application for a method of playing fantasy football, and a “fantasy sports system and method” patent filed in 2013. (5,6,7)
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- US Patent 1,559,117
- US Design Patent D838,922
- US Patent 3,066,980
- US Patent 5,018,736
- US Patent Application Publication 2009/0181738
- US Patent Application Publication 2010/0279774
- US Patent 7,699,707