Pneumatic Helmet Introduced in 1903

 As shown on the left, the player depicted on the cover of the 1903 Spalding Guide wears an odd-looking piece of headgear not seen in previous editions. Although it resembles cranium adornments sometimes found on pre-Columbian art, it is of more recent invention. It is different from anything I had seen in earlier photographs and drawings. When perusing the advertising pages at the back of the 1903 guide, I came across a full-page ad for “Spalding’s Pneumatic Head Harness (Patented),” an item that looks suspiciously similar to the headgear in the cover drawing. A couple more pages including a few more models of head harness (Spalding didn’t call them helmets in those days) are sprinkled among the advertisement pages at the end of the book.

 This one was apparently Spalding’s latest and greatest at the time. The pneumatic head harness, model number 70, cost $5.00, $2.00 more than their next highest-priced model. In Spalding’s words:

 This represents really one of the greatest improvements that has so far been invented in the way of equipment for foot ball. It is made of soft black leather with an inflated crown. The pneumatic part of the head harness is sufficient to give ample protection with space left for ventilation through heavy wool felt….When ordering specify size of hat worn.

No mention is made of how one is to inflate the headpiece. Perhaps the “Club” Foot Ball Inflater, priced at 50¢, or the Pocket Foot Ball Inflater, at half the price, could be used to keep the head protector at full pressure. Because this design didn’t last long (it is not in the 1916 book that was close at hand), it is fair to conclude that it didn’t perform as well as expected—and as advertised.


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